Even as the back of his hand swings directly into a reporter's groin, Jason Miller vows he has grown up. It may seem fairly dubious at the moment, but his sentiment holds some weight. The traditionally bombastic Miller has surprised many with a measured approach on the fourteenth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" (TUF). One that contrasts sharply with that of rival Michael Bisping, who has often been the bully to Miller's calm.
Miller's words immediately prove self-fulfilling when the unlucky reporter recovers and the fighter allows a shot of retaliation in good faith. At once, everything is back as it was.
For much of his career, "Mayhem" wasn't a nickname as much as a lifestyle. Controversy surrounded the brash middleweight, cresting at the 2010 Nashville brawl that signed Strikeforce's CBS death-note and sent Miller into promotional limbo.
After all that, it's somewhat startling to see the composure that currently projects from the 30-year-old. "The minute my life started going better was when I stopped asking ‘what can you do for me?' and started asking ‘what can I do for you?'" Miller explained to Fight Hub.
"When I was younger, man, I would rip you off, I would steal this microphone out of your hands, because I thought that was the only way to get by. I didn't know any other way. Not that my parents are bad parents, it's just, I grew up in an environment where the people who were succeeding were the bad guys. What I realized is, when you become an adult, it's all about what can you give to them, then you get it back ten-fold."
But don't let that fool you into thinking Miller has outgrown his moniker. From filling Team Bisping's dressing room with tractor tires to trapping the truck of assistant coach Tiki Ghosn in concrete highway barricades, Mayhem has delivered on the prank wars "The Ultimate Fighter" is reputed for.
Yet from the outside the motivation for his playfulness has shifted. No longer are the attacks malicious, but stabs at keeping an inherently tense situation as light as possible. "Even going back to high school wrestling, I was always the funny guy on the team," Miller mused. "I feel like it keeps morale up. In order to keep everybody happy and wanting to work hard, you need these little mental breaks where we slap each other in the balls or we have a good time and goof off."
In the bizarre pressure-cooker of the TUF house, Miller's approach quickly became a boon for his team. "Mayhem is a giant kid," bantamweight finalist John Dodson acknowledged to Sherdog. "After all the wins ... Mayhem would bring that fighter something, anything that they wanted to eat or drink. Dustin [Pague] and Dennis [Bermudez] asked for Pizza Hut pizza with breadsticks, and Dustin wanted a sundae. Sure enough, he brought the guys everything."
Now that the show has ended, Miller's upbeat approach seems to have paid off. His team racked up four straight victories to kick off the season, resulting in five semi-finalists to Team Bisping's three. With viable representatives in each final -- Dodson and the 145-pound Bermudez -- a clean sweep for Team Miller isn't out of the question.
Though the triumph will ultimately fall on deaf ears if Mayhem crumbles to Bisping. After months of waiting and training, the two coaches are nearing their middleweight clash at Saturday night's The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale. Calls have already risen for Bisping to move into the title picture once he defeats Miller, to the point where it seems like a done-deal. But assumed victory is a foolish endeavor in this sport of variability, and ignoring Mayhem's pedigree would be a major oversight. With wins over Robbie Lawler, Tim Kennedy, and Kazushi Sakuraba to his credit, Miller has proven himself a worthy adversary, and the big stage has only helped renew his focus.
"This is the first (time) that I've gotten a super serious camp in my entire career," Miller gleefully explained. "It feels awesome. I've never been in such good shape and I've never had such a good mental focus going into a fight. It's actually really refreshing."
There has been little talk about Mayhem's position in the division if he should emerge victorious, but the worrying and predicting can be left to the pundits. The fighter has no doubt about the focus of Monday's water cooler discussions. "I'm going to knock him out or submit him in the first round. It's not going two rounds," he promises. "Dan Henderson took his soul. So, I'm going to take the rest." From other men the bravado may come off overconfident, but the line off rolls Mayhem's tongue without so much as a flicker of doubt.
"I don't know. It's crazy," he concludes, the glint in his eye returning. "Maybe it's this mustache having an influence on me, but now I feel grown-up."