This Saturday, brothers Jim and Dan Miller will step into the Octagon.  This won’t be the New Jersey natives’ first trips into that hallowed cage – lightweight contender Jim has been in there nine times, respected middleweight Dan has been in there eight – and it won’t be the first time they’ve fought on the same night.  It will, however, be the first time they’ve both made the main card of a UFC event.  A monumental occurrence?  Yes, but if you were lucky enough to witness the Millers work their way up the minor league ranks, it’s a feat not wholly unexpected.  At UFC 128, Jim will be facing WEC refugee Kamal Shalorus while edging closer to a title shot; Dan will serve as late replacement for Yoshihiro Akiyama, taking on top-ranked Nate Marquardt.  Tough fights for sure, but the real fight for them began back in November, 2005, in the cavernous Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Reality Fighting was, at one time, the only other pro show New Jersey had to offer, and alongside the venerable Ring of Combat it gave fighters and fans alike a welcomed chance to “get their MMA on” – which is precisely what Jim and Dan did at Reality Fighting 10 that November night.  Blending their wrestling background with newfound jiu-jitsu skills to out-work, out-position and dominate, the brothers debuted strong and handily earned their wins.  For Jim, the victory marked the first of five throughout the following year, with each one building up towards a “best in the Northeast” label and a match-up against the other local 155-pound superstar considered the best: Frankie Edgar.

The bout went down at Reality Fighting 14, and as expected, the two battled frantically at a pace that never slowed.  In a bit of horrifying yet infamous Northeast lore, Jim nailed Edgar with a high-kick to the side of the head in the third round, causing the cartilage in Edgar’s cauliflower ear to squirt out onto the canvas (a commission inspector picked it up and returned it to him post-fight).  Edgar still took the unanimous decision, though, handing the younger Miller brother his first loss.  Undaunted, Jim rebounded, polishing his jiu-jitsu at AMA Fight Club under the tutelage of Renzo Gracie black belt Jamie Cruz and racking up continued wins.  The turning point in his minor league career (when it became clear to all that he was ready for the big leagues) came in 2008, at Ring of Combat 18.  On that night in March, Jim put away UFC veteran Chris Liguori with an arm-in guillotine – the perfect exclamation point to his hard fight up the regional ladder.  After that, there was a one-sided decision win against Bart Palaszewski in the IFL, and then Jim was UFC bound.

The journey for Dan was no less grueling.  His first “L” came at the hands of wrestler Mike Massenzio at Reality Fighting 12 (a split decision after a close, three-round fight), but he would not know that feeling again for another three years.  In the meantime, Dan established himself as one of the Northeast’s best middleweights, winning a belt at the Cage Fury Fighting Championship, winning in Ring of Combat, and when the IFL came to town, winning with a hellacious guillotine against Dave Phillips that most observers thought was going to result in a fatality.  The turning point for Dan came when the IFL gave him a shot at Ryan McGivern’s title; it took the older Miller less than a round to secure the tap out via kneebar.  His next bout was in the UFC.

Nowadays, when digital ink is churned out on behalf of the Millers, their work ethic is mentioned, as are their tenacity and promise.  Since joining the UFC, Jim and Dan have lost only to some of the best (for Jim, a decision to Gray Maynard; for Dan, decisions to Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia and Michael Bisping).  That’s certainly a testament on their ability to fight.  But as testaments to fighting ability go, nothing compares to how hard they fought to earn their spots in the Octagon.

Image via Sherdog