Tennessee is on the rise in the world of MMA. The state has many of the country’s best female fighters such as Shanna Young and Shamir Peshewa on the rise as well as male fighters in the form of Ovince St. Preux and Dustin Ortiz who are representing the state at the highest level of MMA, the UFC. There is also some great young talent waiting in the wings. Caleb Miller is one of those new professionals on the rise. The Knoxville Martial Arts Academy welterweight is currently 1-0 in his sprouting career.
A Change of Paths
Many fighters come to the sport seeking something more in life. Some come to the sport as a means of trying to fit into an environment they feel accepted in. Miller’s story is actually a case of both. “Getting into MMA was really all a matter of timing for me. I was in a pretty low point in my life,” Miller told MMASucka. “I had recently came back home from college for my winter break and I kept thinking to myself ‘I need to do something different.’ I called my baseball coach at the time and told him I appreciated everything he was doing for me but I didn’t think that this was something I really wanted to do.”
“So I moved all of my things back home. I worked a pretty low paying job for about two and a half years. And I stopped doing any kind of physical activity during this time. I wasn’t eating well and wasn’t on a good sleep schedule,” Miller stated. “So I kept waking up every day just feeling awful. I knew I wanted to physically compete in something again. I just had no idea what I wanted to do.” The need to compete against himself was Miller’s biggest problem at this stage in his life. The competition involved making himself mentally and physically stronger.
Trying to Fit in
MMA, like any other combat sport is often times for people who feel “out of place.” It’s a place where they feel they are a part of something. “I had a really hard time growing up, because I was different than other people, and didn’t really fit in very well. I was made fun of a lot, treated pretty poorly, and never really did anything about it because I felt like I couldn’t. At this point in my life I was just really angry at everyone and everything, so I thought I would try and take on boxing,” Miller stated.
“I had told a good friend of mine that I was looking for a gym to go to, and he told me to come to this MMA gym that he did kickboxing at. At first I was pretty skeptical about it, but I finally gave it a shot. At this point, having no experience in wrestling or fighting really at all I didn’t know what I was getting into. So I went. From the moment I started learning about MMA I was hooked. Figuring out that I had a choice in everything that happens to me really changed my life.”
Learning the Craft
Contrary to what the casual fan may think, MMA is far from a one-on-one battle. There are many coaches, sparring partners, etc that go into making an effective, proficient MMA fighter. “There’s so many people who have helped me become the person/ fighter that I am today. As crazy as it sounds, I’m thankful that my high school baseball coach treated me as poorly as he did, because I never would have wanted better for myself if he hadn’t. He ultimately led me to Eric Turner who is now my head coach at KMAA,” Miller told MMASucka.
“Eric, since day one, has shown me nothing but kindness and grace. He’s taught me a lot about not only being a better teammate, and fighter, but also being a good person. Not just from personal conversations, but also from having us as athletes read books to further understand what he is trying to teach us. I also give a lot of credit to my teammates for showing me what it’s like to be a part of a family that isn’t related by blood.”
According to Tapology, Miller had an amateur record of 5-0 with three of those wins coming by finish. The reign of his amateur career spanned from June 2017 to March 2019. This 21 month time frame is all it took for Miller to become a pro. A fighter is never done learning, but Miller had honed his skills enough to take the step up in competition.
Miller’s debut fight came at Valor Fights Fight Night at the Shed which was broadcasted on FloCombat. The card also featured teammate and one of the Southeast’s top women MMA fighters, Olivia Parker, competing on the card. After getting the job done via unanimous decision, Miller rolled out two consecutive rear naked choke first round finishes. The first one came at Strikefest 3 in March 2018 followed by Mayhem at the Mill just two months later. Miller kept busy, taking another fight in May 2018 winning via unanimous decision at Valor Fights 52. Keeping the momentum going, Miller starting moving his way up the card. He took on Taylor Wilson at Valor Fighting Challenge 56 in March 2019. This would be his final amateur bout.
Time to Turn Pro
After earning a 5-0 record and learning at an incredible pace, Miller thought it was time to turn pro. “As an athlete wanting to pursue a career in MMA, the transition from amateur to pro has not been as difficult for me, as it may have been for others. We are held to a high standard at my gym. If we show that we are serious about fighting we are treated as professionals long before we are actually professional fighters. I abide by the rules and stipulations my coach has set for us as athletes, and I always stay ready to be able to accept a fight.”
My main goal for fighting, is to be able to take care of my parents, and immediate family, as they have done for me. I have been given the opportunity to pursue something that is important to me, by the grace of God, and my family, allowing me to do so. At this current point in my career, I do not make enough money to successfully make a living, but I knew, coming into the sport that was a part of it,” Miller said. “Training, both mentally, and physically every day is exhausting, but required to be successful in anything. So I sacrifice now, to get what I want later in life.”
Debut Pro Fight
The big professional debut came on a monumental night for Valor Fights on the May 18, 2019 card. The event was Valor Fighting Challenge 59 and took place outdoors on the field of Smokies Stadium in Kodak, Tennessee. The card was filled with 17 fights, 10 of which were pro bouts.
Miller began his pro debut with an arm triangle submission victory in the first round. He knows the sky is his limit. With continued hard work and dedication, look for Miller to continue his climb up the regional scene. The bigger stage is never out of the picture when a fighter has a strong mindset like Miller.