Call it one of the UFC’s most unorthodox returns.
Jason “Mayhem” Miller finds himself in an unusual – and advantageous position – this weekend, when he fights in the Octagon for the first time in more than six years. Miller will take on Michael Bisping in the main event of the live finale of “The Ultimate Fighter 14,” after the pair spent a full season of reality television revving up their rivalry.
For one thing, it’s a little strange – though not totally unheard of — for the world’s largest MMA promotion to insert a relative outsider into such a high-profile bout against one of its regulars, with possible middleweight contender status on the line. For another, it’s frankly unprecedented for the UFC to cast said outsider as a coach on “TUF,” the breakout hit show many say is chiefly responsible for the organization’s burgeoning success over the last half-decade.
Then again, that’s Mayhem for you.
In the time he spent away from the UFC, Miller has been able to make something of a cottage industry out of just being himself. Long known to hardcore MMA fans for his wacky antics and over-the-top signature persona, he attained something approaching mainstream fame during the last couple of years, when his own “Bully Beatdown” reality show made a successful run on MTV.
Now he returns to the Octagon a full-blown star and a far cry from the kid who had the unenviable task of taking on a still-emerging Georges St. Pierre in his promotional debut back at UFC 52. The company clearly recognized that change and banked on Miller’s built-in fame as much as anything else to sell this season of “TUF” and the resulting fight with Bisping.
Just as coaches on the reality show are meant to do, the two squabbled while filming the reality show and after Bisping got into an altercation with one of “Team Mayhem’s” assistant coaches, Miller has admitted that their fight as taken on the feeling of a grudge match.
At this point, all he needs to do to complete his journey to becoming a bonafide player in the UFC is to defeat Bisping, a fighter many fans find it very easy to despise. That could be easier said than done, considering odds makers see him as almost a 2-1 underdog.
Still, Miller’s style could potentially prove difficult for Bisping, the British bad boy who’s fought six of his 15 UFC fights at home in England and during that time has never faced an opponent with “Mayhem’s” submission ability. An upset win could put Miller in the mix among the company’s top 185-pounders, maybe even setting up a No. 1 contender fight with friend Mark Munoz or Chael Sonnen.
Miller has his own plans, too, threatening to “call out some big names” after beating Bisping at the Palms in Las Vegas.
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, Miller has likely found a long-term home in the UFC, something his 10-year, 32-fight career has lacked up to this point. He’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that, unlike a lot of fighters, he did it his own way.