Exit 9, in case you were wondering. That’s where I hail from, 20 miles off the New Jersey Turnpike.
It’s an idyllic small town called Princeton Junction, full of green expanses and farms, and home to intellectuals and researchers, far from the popular misconception that New Jersey is a sea of Pauly Ds and house music.
Ninety miles to the south is Atlantic City, site of UFC Fight Night 45 on July 16. And no matter what your opinion is of the Garden State, when it comes to MMA, it can be argued that New Jersey saved the sport from certain death during its darkest times.
Sure, it’s difficult to credit a geographical location with breathing life back into the lungs of mixed martial arts, but when Zuffa purchased the UFC in 2001, where did they go? That’s right, New Jersey.
At a time when very few states in the union would sanction MMA, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board became the first commission to adopt the Unified Rules of MMA, welcoming the likes of Dana, Lorenzo, and Frank with open arms for their first three events with the UFC.
It was Jersey and one Donald “The Donald” Trump that embraced the Zuffa brass for UFC 30, the event where Jens Pulver was crowned the promotion’s first bantamweight (now lightweight) champion, and UFC 31, which featured B.J. Penn’s debut appearance in the Octagon.
Yes, in some way, the Jersey Shore saved MMA in 2001, offering the sport a safe landing strip. But in the decade since, the Dirty Jers has become a media punchline, due, in no small part, to the vapid portrayals prevalent in reality television.
New Jersey has been relegated to cultural purgatory, but UFC lightweight Jim Miller, who is set to headline UFN 45 against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, will attempt to restore the Garden State to its MMA glory, and dispel popular misconceptions and stereotypes, save one.
Miller, 30, is the antithesis of everything New Jersey has, unfairly, become known for since the popularization of a half dozen nitwits, most of whom are not even from the shore, mind you.
A native of Sparta Township and the Skylands, a beautiful and lush rural region of mountains and woods, Miller shoots guns, wrangles bass, and chops down trees. He walks out to rock and roll tracks like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” and The Hollies “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress),” and can fend for himself in the wilderness, a skill that translates well to the Octagon, where Miller has compiled a stellar 13-3 record, with six of those wins coming via submission.
Earning his BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie disciple Jamie Cruz, Miller is a beast on the ground. And having already set the UFC promotional record for wins in the 155-pound division, he has also collected six fight-night bonuses, including three “Submission of the Night” awards.
Sophisticated and gritty inside the cage, Miller can roll with the best of them; he’s also game to throw down in a fistfight, evidenced by his 2012 “Fight of the Year” performance against Joe Lauzon at UFC 155. A perennial underdog who has quietly climbed his way up the lightweight ladder, Miller is exactly the type of no frills character that has long since been associated with a state that birthed Jack Nicholson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Buzz Aldrin.
He is the perfect ambassador to resurrect the state’s reputation as the home to a tough-nosed working class. But in Jim Miller’s New Jersey, the epithet “Armpit of America” is, rather, a badge of honor and an ode to his high level Brazilian jiu jitsu.
But before we proceed with further talk of Jim Miller’s armpits, let’s completely dispel the myth that the Garden State earned its undeserved, pejorative nickname because of a few toxic factories.
It is true that the industrialized area near Secaucus does have its fair share of foul-smelling emissions; however, New Jersey is a leader in Renewable Energy Certificates and green technologies, so throw away your narrow-minded opinions and come to this more enlightened realization. New Jersey is called the “Armpit of America” because when looking at a map of the eastern seaboard, from Miami to Maine, Jersey resides just north of the Mason-Dixon line, serving as the pit to New England’s outstretched arm.
And now that we’ve cleared that up, back to Miller, whose armpits are deathly, especially when used to finish opponents inside his guillotine choke.
Amassing an array of rear naked choke, armbar, and kneebar victories, Miller finally let his armpits do the talking during his most recent performance at UFC 172, when he choked Yancy Medeiros out cold with a deep, arm-in guillotine. Pulling guard just three minutes into their lightweight clash, Miller trapped Meideros’ head, and quickly cut off the blood flow to his foe’s head.
Completing the guillotine and earning the technical submission win—Medeiros was unconscious and thus unable to tap out—Jim Miller brought respect to the armpits of New Jersey’s nearly 9-million residents, all the while conducting himself with humility and class.
It is this humble, methodical, and tenacious approach that cements Jim Miller as the perfect ambassador for mixed martial arts in New Jersey (no offense to Tom’s River’s own Frankie Edgar of course.) And every time Miller, all five-foot-eight of him, steps inside that Octagon, he’s proving that New Jersey has the toughest armpits in America. Just don’t ask him what exit he’s from.
Check out this related story:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.