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Jim Miller remembers near-retirement at UFC 200: ‘I had made the decision to walk away’

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Jim Miller thought he was done.

It was 2016, and a multitude of health issues not only affected his training and preparation, but the results in Miller’s fights weren’t helping much either. As he stumbled through a 1-3 octagon skid, the longtime veteran began readying for a showdown with Diego Sanchez at UFC 196, and he couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the writing was the wall.

His MMA career was coming to end sooner than he expected.

“I was not having a go of it,” Miller told MMA Fighting ahead of his UFC 300 return against Bobby Green. “2015 was pretty hard on me, in the gym and I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was, ‘Hey, you’ve been a professional fighter for the last 10 years, this is what it’s supposed be like. Your knees hurt. You’ve got nerve issues and numbness and stuff. Yeah, you’re going to have memory problems.’

“I’ve only been knocked unconscious twice in my life — it’s been inside the octagon. It’s never happened in training, so it’s not like I take a ton of damage in training. I am a wrestler and I lead with my head, so we knew at that point too that it’s the little bumps, like from football, it’s all of that stuff. It’s not necessarily the big jarring shots that you know it and you feel it. It’s those little bumps that do add up. I figured this was all just from being a professional fighter for a decade. This is what I’m going to have to deal with.”

But just days before his fight with Sanchez, Miller received a call from his doctor that finally explained why his health had taken a sudden and dramatic nosedive.

Miller was diagnosed with Lyme disease, an infection spread by ticks that causes a myriad of health issues, including fever, headache, and fatigue. When left untreated, the issues can spread to joints, the heart, and even the nervous system. The diagnosis quickly explained all of the problems that Miller had been dealing with, but he still didn’t know how long it would take for treatment to actually make a difference for him.

That’s why, after booking his next fight several months later at UFC 200, Miller was ready to call it quits for good.

“I was diagnosed two or three days prior to that event,” Miller explained. “I was out in Las Vegas when I got the phone call from my doctor saying he thought I had Lyme disease. So it was like, I fought Diego [Sanchez], I came back and started my medication and my protocol, and I was like, ‘Well, aright, let’s ask to be on UFC 200.’

“If this is it, if I can get out of this, then we’ll see where it takes me. If I can’t, if the next couple of weeks are as bad as the last year and a half have been, then I was willing to take my gloves off in the octagon at UFC 200.”

Miller didn’t launch into his training camp thinking his career was on borrowed time, but he also knew there needed to be a dramatic difference in his physical condition if he was going to continue fighting beyond UFC 200.

He openly addressed the possibility that he might call it a career at the historic event, because that’s just how bad his health had gotten after leaving the Lyme disease untreated.

“Fortunately, I responded really quickly to the antibiotics,” Miller said. “It was one of those things when you’re at 20 percent and you go to 30 percent, you’re like, ‘Man, this is amazing!’ You feel like you’re on top of the world, but it was a long, slow climb out. It did take a lot longer than I thought it was going to.

“But I was prepared. I was ready. I had already made that decision. That’s why I felt so comfortable talking about it, the last eight years, because I had made that decision. I had made the decision to walk away from the sport. Fortunately, a majority of the issues I was dealing with was from something unassociated with being a fighter and the lifestyle that I lead.”

With the possibility of retirement looming large over UFC 200, Miller was still unbelievably excited for the chance to share the octagon with a legend like Takanori Gomi.

There was a time not long before they met that Gomi was considered the No. 1 lightweight in the world across every promotion. Miller recognizes that wasn’t the same Gomi he faced at UFC 200, but he never scoffed at the opportunity to clash with an all-time great.

“Even before I started training, before the UFC even brought back lightweight, he was the best lightweight guy on the planet,” Miller said. “I remember it was Takanori Gomi and Vitor ‘Shaolin’ [Ribeiro]. These two guys are just awesome.

“Years later, I fought Takanori Gomi and I get to train with Vitor. This is amazing. It was awesome to hear that name. I understand at that point, the mileage on that guy’s body, he wasn’t the same guy that made me fall in love with the sport. He was not that same fighter and I know that, but it was cool to get the opportunity to share the octagon with him. I wish it was when we were both in our primes, but it’s the way it goes. We weren’t. I sure as s*** know that I wasn’t at that point in my life. It was cool to get to fight him.”

Mostly healthy and nearly recovered from the effects of the Lyme disease, Miller needed less than three minutes to knock out Gomi and put his career back on track. It was a stunning turn of events, but more importantly it signaled that Miller really was on his way back after having years robbed from him while he was sick and just didn’t know it.

Without the doctors that finally diagnosed his Lyme disease, Miller knows he would’ve retired at UFC 200 — and that would’ve prevented him from adding a whole slew of accolades to his résumé since that event in 2016.

“If I had called it quits at [UFC] 200, the records and the talks that we have about potential Hall of Fame, they don’t happen,” Miller said. “Now, granted, had I not gotten bit by a tick, who knows where I would have been at that point too. I was ranked No. 6 or something like that at one point. The things that I dealt with, they definitely pulled me down.

“Fortunately, I was able to overcome it, and the biggest thing for me was knowing that I was going to fight. I was getting beat up everyday and I didn’t know if I needed to be preparing everyday and getting one-percent better in that realm. Finding out that I had an opponent that was kicking my butt behind the curtain was huge, and just knowing that made it a lot easier to deal with it.”

Even now, at age 40, as he approaches his return at UFC 300, Miller says the same rules apply now as they once did at UFC 200.

For as much has changed eight years later, nothing has changed.

“For me, it’s always been the training camp,” Miller said. “Fight night’s hard, fight week’s hard, but it’s a very short period of time. It’s those six, eight weeks leading up to a fight where you’re kicking your own ass, that’s the hard part. That’s the grind. The fight is the reward.

“I knew with how those few weeks leading up to that fight went and how different they were from my previous few camps that, OK, we can still do this. It wasn’t necessarily the results in the octagon that were driving me to retire. It was the months leading up to a fight. That’s the same thing today.”

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