Wrestling brothers Miller from New Jersey hit IFL ringFor Jim and Dan Miller, taking on opponents in each other's company is nothing new. After all, the brothers, now 24 and 26, respectively, have been wrestling on teams together for more than 20 years. But on May 16 at the Mohegan Sun Arena, they'll be making International Fight League (IFL) history by doing so on another stage - the mixed martial arts (MMA) ring.
The Millers are in many ways like thousands of "wrestling families," with generations growing up on the sport. Some of Jim and Dan's earliest memories are of watching their uncles compete in meets at NCAA power Lehigh and at Pope John XXIII High School in their hometown of Sparta, N.J., in the rural Northwest corner of the state. That and an innate desire to compete and test their athletic skills led them to expand the family connection to the sport by another generation.
"Our family has been involved in wrestling for as long as I can remember," says Dan, who wrestled at Sparta High School for four years, two of them alongside Jim. "Our dad got us into it and from there we just fell in love with it."
"I have really wrestled since I could walk," laughs Jim, who now sports a neat 11-1 MMA record. "Dan and I started around the same time, and then we were just rolling around, having fun. But even as we got more into it and learned more and began competing, our dad always told us to go out and do what you like to do, not so much emphasis on wins and losses, but doing your best and having fun doing it. That hasn't changed."
Both brothers will have a chance to show how much their wrestling skills have turned into productive MMA careers in front of a national audience when HDNet airs the IFL Mohegan Sun show live on May 16. Dan, who first opened eyes of IFL fans with one of the year's most talked-about submission wins in the 2007 IFL World Team Championship semifinals and now owns a 7-1 MMA record, will be battling for his first IFL title when he takes on middleweight (185-lbs.) champion Ryan McGivern. Jim, who scored a unanimous decision over MMA veteran Bart Palaszewski just four weeks ago at the IFL event in New Jersey, gets another tough opponent in Brazil's Fabricio Camoes at 155 lbs. on his way to a possible title bout down the road.
"Getting the opportunity to fight against Bart was a good measuring stick to where I am in MMA," says Jim. "He is a class act and a really good, experienced fighter who never gives up. He didn't want to tap when he was in those chokes [applied by Miller during the match]. He's a guy I would love to train with because of that effort."
Because of the difference in their weight - at times in their lives, Dan has outweighed his younger brother by more than 70 lbs. - the Millers have rarely trained directly with each other. But that hasn't meant that they haven't learned from each other, their bond as brothers grown stronger by years of participation in wrestling and, now, MMA.
"He's my best friend," says Jim of his older sibling. "We see each other every day, in training but also away from the gym. Only in the last couple of years has the gap in weight class between us diminished, so we haven't been able to wrestle together since we were very young, but Dan has always been a big influence in my life. He's the kind of athlete who is never satisfied, always thinks he can do more and do better."
Both brothers credit wrestling in large part for their success in the early stages of their respective MMA careers, but not necessarily for the same reason. For Dan, the most important aspect of wrestling was the work ethic it instilled, in addition to the strong base it provided for such technical aspects of the sport as takedowns and ground control. Jim emphasizes the instructive side of wrestling, learning a technique by seeing others perform it and practicing it over and over until he could move in the same manner.
"The whole experience of wrestling, how it's a sport that builds character, more than any single story or incident, is what stands out for me," adds Jim. "Wrestling isn't the number one sport in the world, but what I love about competitively is that, in the end, it all comes down to you. It's your job to get it done."