PAT MILETICH

The quick, rhythmic pop, pop, pop of punches hitting mitts echoes through Pat Miletich’s training center in Bettendorf, Iowa. UFC fighting legend and master trainer Pat Miletich is working the pads with one of his students. Pat begins to mix it up, circling, trying to get the guy used to movement. The old fighter’s physical grace emerges as the ex welterweight champ smoothly feints and circles, jukes and jives his student. It becomes a sort of dance, with Miletich giving the guy angles and the tall blonde fighter trying to cut off his coach. The object of the exercise is not power, but speed, fluidity, and footwork. Pat is teaching the guy how to move his feet so that he can throw his punches and kicks from deceptive angles.

 

At the higher levels of the mixed martial arts, where everyone is talented and knows what he’s doing, victory is often about footwork, deception, odd angles, and surprise.

The team’s boxing coach, Teddy Mueller, explained it to me this way, “It’s all about angles, and hitting the guy with a punch he doesn’t see, surprising him. Think of when Tim Sylvia caught Arlovski in their rematch, or the way Liddell handled Randy the last two times they fought,” he says.

It is a good point, because Sylvia and Liddell are similar. Although they are both dreaded knockout artists, it isn’t their power that is primarily to credit. “Anybody will knock you out with an MMA glove, if they connect.” Mueller continues. “Placement is key.” Chuck and Tim are good at keeping themselves in position to turn over their big punches from angles that their opponents don’t expect, and therefore can’t defend.

After about ten minutes on the pads, Pat and his student are fi nished. Now it’s time for the fighters to begin their grappling training. The twenty or so students pair up and begin rolling or sparring at full speed on the ground. Country music is blaring over the gym’s speakers, and Pat squats next to the wall, spitting dip into an empty Redline bottle. He scowls intently as he watches his fighters struggling with each other. He doesn’t interact much with them. Most of these guys are high caliber grapplers, with solid wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu fundamentals, so they don’t need a lot of technical instruction.

“This is not teaching time, but ‘get at it’ time,” he tells me later. He watches them all, to see how they react under pressure, to see which ones have the most heart, or which ones will fold. He keeps the room extremely hot, and this exacerbates the fighters’ fatigue. Tonight it is just grappling without strikes, tomorrow night, Wednesday night, it will be striking, and legend has it that it is one of most brutal sparring sessions in the country.

There’s a hardness to Pat’s guys, a toughness that can be a little intimidating when you first meet them. It’s not that any of these guys are impolite or unapproachable; it’s just that they are all deadly serious when it comes to their work, which is fighting. This mindset shows itself in battle. When Tim Sylvia got caught in an armbar at UFC 48 by

Frank Mir, he watched his own arm snap rather than tap.

I meet Miletich’s lightweight Jason Reinhardt, and he tells me a story about a fight he had in 2001. He caught his opponent in an armbar, who then lifted him up, a la Rampage Jackson, and slammed him twice down on top of his head. Reinhardt didn’t release the hold, but sunk it in deeper and the guy tapped out, giving Reinhardt the victory. When he got checked out after the fight, Jason found that the slams had broken his neck in two places. He was out of the sport for two years recuperating.

When I watch Reinhardt rolling with a much larger opponent, it is clear that he is very good. He seems to take the principle of always attacking from unexpected angles that Teddy told me about in striking, and applies it to his ground game. He is always moving, always doing something, and he seems to constantly be in a position that his opponent is uncomfortable with, or attacking somewhere his opponent isn’t expecting. The guy he’s training with seems confounded and befuddled.

“Position, position, position…” Miletich tells me later, when I ask for one tip on how to fight. “It’s hard to lose a fight if you have the superior position.”

Pat is scowling again, sitting on a blue yoga ball in the center of his gym’s wrestling room, the same room that held last night’s sparring and workout sessions. His elbow is resting on his knee, and he supports his chin on his fist. He is deep in thought, looking like Rodin’s The Thinker. He is unreadable. It’s impossible to tell what he is feeling, what he is thinking about, or what he is going to do next. Behind him, sitting on the floor against the wall, is giant Tim Sylvia. Jens Pulver, always a ball of nervous energy, fidgets next to Sylvia. There is a virtual who’s who of MMA stars in the room. Brad Imes, who is a big as Tim, lies sprawled on the floor. The IFL’s leading light, Ben Rothwell has captured another yoga ball like Pat’s. Spencer Fisher is here, and many more.

Interspersed with the fighters are an assortment of older gentlemen, which include white haired businessmen, farmers, community leaders, a writer and a man, now retired, who has just sold his business for a fortune. They all sit lined up against the walls of the gym. Many of the older men have on blue dress shirts, and these are stained with sweat from the sweltering heat. The men meet here every Wednesday at 11:00 for a Bible study group. In the early days, only four people showed up. Now at times they get as many as a hundred. The day I attend there are about twenty.

“I think we can all have voids in our lives,” Pat says thoughtfully to the men in the group, who are all quiet and listening intently. “And to fill those voids, we can sometimes choose the wrong things, whether it be money, or chasing women, or drugs, or whatever…”

The subject of this meeting is temptation, and after his talk, which lasted about 30 minutes, the young pastor moderating the meeting opened up the group for a discussion. I am surprised at how freely the guys in the room speak, and how sincere they are. Ben Rothwell and Brad Imes are good friends, and they seem to take it upon themselves to lighten the mood if it gets too heavy, sharing a funny story or self-effacing observation.

The atmosphere is relaxed and trusting. Attendees don’t have to say anything at the group, but if they do, it must be from the heart. Everyone here is a straight shooter, or at least they are from 11:00 to 12:00 on Wednesdays. The meeting ends with the pastor asking if anyone has requests for prayers; several people make them. They are unabashed, confident that here they will not be judged weak by asking. I feel the urge to make a request, but because I am new I don’t say anything. Later, after getting to know all the guys and how cool they are, I wish I had spoken up.

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Big Tim wants sushi, and what Big Tim wants, he gets. After the meeting, about ten of us follow him over to a place called Shogun’s in Davenport. Tim tells me that he has been all over, and that the sushi at Shogun’s is some of the best to be found anywhere. I am skeptical that a joint in Iowa is going to have good sushi, but at 6’8” and 260 pounds, Tim can be persuasive.

 

Once we arrive, I ask him about what Mueller told me about footwork, angles, and knockouts. Tim agrees. “A good example is my fi ght with Gan McGee,” he says. At UFC 44, Tim for once fought a man bigger than he is. Tim knew that Gan ,a 6 “10 monster, was unused to fighting opponents nearly as tall as him, and therefore had the bad habit of keeping his hands too low. Early in the first round, Tim feinted to make McGee think that he was going to punch him low, but then stepped around and surprised him by coming in over the top of Gan’s lowered guard, and dropping the gargantuan McGee with a smooth right-handed wrecking ball he never saw coming. It wasn’t an incredibly fast punch, but it didn’t have to be. It was tricky. It was a devastating performance by Sylvia and subtle in its own way.

“You kind of sent him over the deep end,” I comment, referring to the fact that after he lost to Sylvia, Gan never won another fight.

“Yep,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’ve ruined a lot of guy’s careers. Rizzo, Arlovski, Telligman. None of those guys were as good after they fought me.” We start talking about his next fight, against undefeated prospect Brandon “The Truth” Vera, which will take place on October 20th at UFC 77.

He is convinced that Vera has underestimated him, and that he will stand straight in front of him and try to knock him out. This is exactly what Tim wants to happen. The more Vera opens up, the more vulnerable he will be to one of Tim’s sneaky bombs. In my mind, I am slightly favoring Tim because of his size and experience, but Vera seems to have tremendous natural athleticism, and will probably be the quicker of the two. It is a dangerous fight for them both.

I ask him about some of the other names in the division. “Cro Cop?”

“He’s a bully. He can’t fight going backwards. I figured out how to beat him along time ago,” Tim says.

“Fedor?”

“I’ve been chasing him trying to make the fight, but I’m pretty sure he won’t end up in the UFC.” Tim doesn’t elaborate, but I get the feeling he knows something about the Fedor/UFC situation that I don’t.

“Who I want,” he says with a growl, “is Cheick Kongo.” Sylvia has seen something in the huge Frenchman’s squared up and fl at-footed Muy Thai style that he thinks he can exploit. Tim breaks into a wolfish grin. “He’s stiff,” he says, practically salivating. A stiff fighter is easier to hit clean than one that is loose and rolls with punches. I can tell Big Tim smells blood.

I ask him what he thinks of Kimbo Slice, and he suddenly becomes angry.

“That guy is a joke,” he fumes. “I mean, he’s just a street fighter with no skill, a thug. He beats up guys off the street that don’t know how to fi ght, and people like you [referring to the media, I guess] build him up like he is something legitimate. Meanwhile, guys like me and Josh Barnett and a lot of others get overlooked. It sucks that you help that guy get credibility. ”

I can tell that I have inadvertently touched a nerve in Tim. He is so nice and unassuming that you can forget how huge he is, but when he suddenly loses his temper you remember really quickly.

The waitress brings our order to the table and breaks the tension. She spreads out several trays of sushi, and we all share. Tim graciously insists that everyone try a little bit of everything, and I’ll be damned if the big man isn’t right; the sushi is phenomenal. I try something called an Iowa City roll that is world class.

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Jens has shown up for sparring on Wednesday night, but forgot his mouthpiece. He goes to the bathroom and gets a couple of paper towels, which he wads up and stuffs in his mouth. If nothing else, the man is a stickler for safety. He gets into his headgear and gloves. I didn’t know it then, but about twenty minutes later “Lil Evil” will almost kill me.

My enthusiasm had gotten the better of me the day before, and I had asked Pat if I could take part in the legendary Wednesday night sparring session. “You want to spar?” he asked incredulously.

“I couldn’t come all the way up here and not do it. I’d never be able to live with myself. I used to box a little… ”

“Now I’m excited,” he said.

Everybody spars at the same time, so it is wild. I have to be conscious not only of the guy in front of me, but of what is going on around me as well, so I don’t get hit with a wild punch or kick, or run over another pair of fighters. It’s a crazy scene, with all sorts of stuff going on. Out of my peripheral vision I see a guy get dropped with a body shot. He groans and writhes on the floor, spitting out his mouthpiece. Expect no quarter at Pat’s on Wednesday nights. If you get knocked out, you get knocked out.

In my gloves, mouthpiece, and headgear, I delude myself into feeling protected. As everyone begins pairing off, I wave to Jens to spar with me. Jens always seems like he is surprised at something, but this time he looks a little more so. He gives me a look that says “All right…if you insist.”

I know, or think I know, that with Jens being a southpaw (left-handed) what I, as a right-hander am supposed to do is step to my left and tag him with a straight right. My experience with Mr. Pulver does not support my theories. Every time I throw my right, he moves either to the right or left so that my punch ends up where he was, as opposed to where he is. Then for good measure he hits me three or four times before I can reset.

Teddy Mueller told me that striking was about angles and surprise. Well, Jens is certainly using angles, but he isn’t surprising me. About the fiftieth time he hits me with his vaunted left hand, I realize exactly what Jens is doing, but I am too slow and ponderous to do anything about it. After a round, Jens knows that I am tired. I can see his eyes narrow, and the killer in him take over. He starts to bounce, and his punches get harder and faster. He really picks it up, and he becomes a blur of rights and lefts. I discover to my chagrin that he has a little man’s speed and a big man’s power.

Luckily for me, we aren’t throwing kicks and we are using the big sixteen ounce sparring gloves. With those big gloves, all you really have to do is keep your chin tucked behind your shoulder and keep your right glove planted on the side of your check, and this will usually defl ect your opponent’s blows up to the top of the head where they’re easier to take. A hard puncher like Jens can still shake you up though. If we had been using four ounce gloves like the ones used in MMA matches, I am sure that I would have been taking a nap on Pat’s blue Swain mats, thanks to my new friend Jens Pulver.

I miraculously make it to the bell. I am exhausted, but relieved I didn’t go down. Jens and I went only two rounds, but I feel like Sylvester Stallone at the end of the first Rocky (the only good one by the way). I have a strangely giddy feeling that I suspect is the product of adrenaline and getting punched very hard in the head. I know it sounds crazy, and I can’t really explain why, but somehow getting in there and banging with Lil Evil and getting my ass kicked in the process is the most fun I have had in a long time.

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“Is your forehead all sore from yesterday?” Pat asks. I have come by early the next morning to tell everyone goodbye before leaving Iowa.

“No, not really,” I say truthfully. I won’t start to ache for another day or so. I tell Pat that I consider the whole thing an exercise in my spiritual growth, because nothing teaches you humility like getting beaten up by a guy you outweigh by fifty pounds. He seems to like that; then again, with Pat you can never tell. We go outside to where my car is parked, and I shake his hand and tell him goodbye. As I pull out of the gym’s driveway and see him lumber back into the gym through my rear view mirror, I reflect on what good people they are up here in Iowa. Pat, Big Tim, Jens and the rest of the guys: very down to earth, good people.

I remember the day before, when Pat talked to me before I went to the Wednesday morning meeting. “This is probably going to be the first Bible study group you go to where there’s cussing,” he said, peering up at me from beneath his unreadable frown.

“Well, if it was a tea party, none of the guys would come,” I replied.

Pat had suddenly lit up, his frown disappearing into a sunny ear-to-ear grin. “Yeah, Jesus didn’t come to preach to the righteous, he came to preach to the shitheads like me that need it.”

How wonderful, I remember thinking, that such a coarse statement could contain such a profound and beautiful sentiment.

Angles.

 

MILETICH FIGHTERS:

Matt Hughes:

At 41-5, former nine time UFC welterweight champion Hughes is one of the most dominant competitors in the history of the sport.

Tim Sylvia

Underrated and underappreciated by fans, Big” Tim Sylvia has quietly become one the best big men in the sport. If he can get past Brandon Vera, he will put himself right into the mix in the heavyweight division.

Robbie Lawler:

Lawler won the Icon middleweight championships, and resurrected his career with a brutal stoppage of Frank Trigg. Like fellow Miletich team members Tim Sylvia and Jens Pulver, he is devastating with his hands.

Jens Pulver:

Jens has lost his last two fi ghts, but the 33-year-old superstar is moving down to a more natural weight class, featherweight. In that class, no one has ever gone the distance with him. A super fight with Urijah Faber in the WEC is an exciting possibility for “Lil Evil.”

 

THE NEXT GENERATION

Spencer Fisher:

Spencer Fisher recently avenged his loss to Sam Stout when he won a tough decision over Stout at UFC Fight Night 10. Both fights with Stout were among the most entertaining of the year, and a rubber match between the two should be a bonanza for fans.

Jason Reinhardt:

At 37, this Jiu-Jitsu specialist knows that he needs to makes his move soon. A victory over Joe Louzon could be just what he needs to jump-start his career.

Corey Hill:

Gifted with natural talent and absurdly tall for his weight class, this TUF 5 alumni could turn into a major player as his skills develop.

Ben Rothwell:

One of the breakout stars of the IFL, Ben Rothwell is the top heavyweight in the organization. Recently he had the biggest win of his career when he won a unanimous decision over Ricco Rodriguez.

Brad Imes:

At 6’7” and 260 pounds, “Big” Brad landed history’s most massive Gogoplata when he submitted Zak Jensen in the WFC. He tells FIGHT! (with a straight face) that fans should next look for him to add the flying armbar to his repertoire.

 

PAT MILETICH

Professional MMA Record: 28-7-2

Pat Miletich has forged two successful careers in mixed martial arts, the first as a legendary fighter and world champion, and the second as the founder of Miletich Fighting Systems, which has been responsible for some of the best fighters in the sport.

Career Highlights:

Pat became the UFC lightweight champion when he won the lightweight tournament at UFC 16. He defended the title four times before the UFC changed the weight classes, making him the first welterweight champion.

He scored one of the most famous knockouts of the early days of the UFC when he KO’d Shonie Carter with a head kick at UFC 32. This was the first time many had seen a head kick used successfully in MMA.

In his last fight, in 2006, he was submitted by rival IFL coach Renzo Gracie.

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