Patrick Jay ‘Pat’ Miletich is a retired American mixed martial artist and a current sports commentator. He is known for his fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he became the first UFC Welterweight Champion and UFC 16 Welterweight Tournament Winner. Miletich is also known as a highly successful trainer and coach, having founded Miletich Fighting Systems. This camp is considered one of the most successful in MMA history and has produced several world champions. On July 6, 2014, he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Tony Reid interviewed Pat as part of our MMA Pioneers series last year – here’s how the conversation went…
Tony Reid- You were the first UFC Welterweight Champion and a UFC Tournament Champion and contributed so much to the early development of the UFC in the Octagon and as a coach and ambassador. In your eyes, where do you belong or rank in UFC history?
Pat Miletich-I would just say that I was one of the guys to help establish it (MMA) as a true sport. That’s about all I can say.
Tony Reid- OK. I think you may be understating it a bit.
Pat Miletich- Well thank you.
Tony Reid-Your first pro MMA fight was at Battle of the Masters in 1995. You have been quoted as saying you were literally fighting to survive, monetarily speaking. It is reported you fought early on the help pay your mother’s bills after your father’s passing. Can you talk about the early struggles you faced outside the cage while trying to make a career of mixed martial arts inside it?
Pat Miletich-I loved competing and the family problems…to be honest I was having trouble focusing period. My mom was ill. Luckily my mom is still alive and she has really battled a lot, a number of heart procedures, to get through everything. She is doing well. For me it was the best thing to happen to me personally. It forced mew to step up and produce for myself, for my life and to help my mom out as much as possible. I went to school during the day, came back home from school, went to the gym and train in the early evening and then to work to bartend or do bar security depending on the night, then I would go to bed and get up the next morning and do it all again. That was when I was doing kickboxing and started MMA and it went from there. As I got better and made more money fighting I was able to quit one job until I didn’t have to bartend or do security anymore. I was able to fight and pay some bills and then train law enforcement.
It’s a means to an end. You do what you have to do to get to where you want to go. My goal was to be able to get to a point where I could just train full time and win a title and luckily it worked out that way for me.
Tony Reid-You competed in some of the earliest UFC events such as UFC 16, UFC 18, UFC Brazil, UFC 21, etc. What were your thoughts about entering the competition at the time and what are your thoughts looking back now at your time spent inside the Octagon?
Pat Miletich-It actually changed the style of fighter I became. Early in my career I fought with reckless abandon. I was trying to get guys out as quickly as possible. At the time Semaphore Entertainment Group owned the UFC. At the time, and still today, they had the potential to cut you after a loss. So I became more and more reserved in my style and made sure that if I couldn’t get somebody out of there that I could make sure I won on the judge’s scorecards. It was important to get that winners paycheck, to pay the bills I needed to pay. That’s how things went for me. My time in the Octagon was a dream come true, like it is for anybody who gets that opportunity. It was a culmination of many years of hard work.
Tony Reid-I am rewatching every UFC event starting with UFC 1 and moving forward. Being such an important part of that history what would you want me or any fan to take away from the early days of the sport?
Pat Miletich-I would like everyone to understand the struggles, the tension and the stress that was going on for the athletes that were trying to make it a legit sport. Not only were we training mentally and physically for a fight and an opponent who didn’t want you to come out as the victor of course but even more so I was doing live televised debates with politicians to try to keep the sport legal in state that I was going to be competing in. To stay motivated for a fight is one thing, to go through the day to day grind and metal stresses is one thing but couple that with the fact that we aren’t even100% sure the event is even going to happen is another. You are sailing toward an island that you don’t even know is there. It’s that kind of feeling. They were difficult years.
Tony Reid- What is your fondest memory of your time in the UFC and conversely what is your least favorite memory of your time spent there?
Pat Miletich- The best memories are just the time spent with the guys. The team aspect, the camaraderie, the energy was just impossible to match. We had so much momentum and so many great fighters and then we traveled with a huge group of guys. There were times when we had six or seven guys on one card and each guy had three cornermen, so basically our whole gym was empty when a UFC event was going on. It was a lot of fun. The worst memory was when I was forced to move up to 185.I knew I didn’t belong there, I didn’t want to fight there. For a period of time it stripped me of my energy.
Tony Reid- Is there a behind the scenes story from the early days of the sport that you could share with us that the average fan would never hear about?
Pat Miletich- It wasn’t even from the UFC but I lost to Jose Pele Landi, I had a back injury that prevented me from training for probably two months. But I still needed to fight, I still needed the money so I went out and I got 8 shots in my back from an orthopedic guy to numb up my back enough to walk out to the ring and fight. I lost that fight. It was three 8 minute rounds and I had to stop after the first round. I couldn’t even walk anymore. Pele Landi got in my face and in his Brazilian accent said “Who’s the champion now?” It pissed me off and I think all my guys knew it. We helped Dave Menne get ready for his fight against Pele, he fought Pele next. He beat Pele and after Dave beat Pele and after the fight Matt Hughes got in Pele’s face and said “Who’s champion now, Asshole?” There were so many good rivalries between my camp and Lion’s Den, Chute Boxe, all that type of stuff. It was pretty fun.
Tony Reid- Being a rich part of the history of the sport I’m interested to see who you enjoy watching compete in MMA today.
Pat Miletich- I really like Daniel Cormier a lot. He is the fighter of the future type guy. His high level wrestling coupled with his understating of the striking side, they have done a great job at AKA. They have done a great job with all the guys out there. He is really the type of guy that I see as the future of the sport. Jon Jones is a great athlete, a talented guy but Daniel Cormier is a guy who represents himself at a very high level and represents the sport the way it should be represented. That’s really where the future belongs, with a guy like Daniel Cormier.
Tony Reid- After winning 15 straight fights you took your first loss against Matt Hume. How did that fight and outcome change you?
Pat Miletich- It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. He (Hume) was a very advanced guy, a very knowledgeable guy and he’s a great coach today because of all the knowledge he has. He was a very smart fighter. Initially I was able to physically control him and throw him around a bit but late in the first round he hit me with a few knees and I knew I couldn’t take many more of those as I would get cut open really bad or hurt. I knew he were right at the end of the round and I kind of fell to my back to avoid any more knees and he caught me in a head lock real tight and I was having trouble getting out of it. At the end of the round I went back to the corner, and the sport was under so much scrutiny that the doctor stopped the fight because he thought my nose was broken. Nonetheless, it was a great learning experience for me. I knew I had to tighten up my game and as any loss should it made me a better fighter.
Tony Reid- Looking back at the gym and the team you built, how rewarding or satisfying is it to be so prominent in the growth of the sport and the countless great fighters you were so instrumental in developing? (Hughes, Pulver, Lawler, Sylvia, Franklin, etc…that’s not even counting guys like Horn, Rothwell, Palaszewski and Markham)
Pat Miletich- Its fun to look back. There was an awful lot of energy and a lot of hungry people that wanted to be the best in the world. Everybody pushed each other. Nobody was allowed to loaf and if you did you got your ass kicked. That’s just the way it was. Having your name on the building wasn’t about trying to be the man but more of a feeling of not wanting to get your ass kicked too much if your name is on the building, you should probably be able to hang with the guys (laughs).
Tony Reid- You have said that becoming a trainer was out of necessity because as a fighter you had to “create” good training partners yourself. Is that an accurate description?
Pat Miletich- I was just trying to look into the future a bit. I knew if I didn’t have good training partners I’m certainly not going to become a great fighter. I had to teach people the fundamentals of MMA as fast as I could and luckily I had guys who were very capable and very good athletes and good guys in general. Not only did they absorb the knowledge fast but they also looked for more of it as well. Jeremy Horn was a guy who was a very cerebral fighter he was a very good coach and very instrumental in helping build that great group of guys. He spent a lot of extra time teaching the grappling aspect and things like that. That is something Jeremy never got enough credit for. He invested an awful lot of time in Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia and the other guys as well.
Pat Miletich- Just to get an idea of the intensity in the room, here is a story about Jens Pulver and Sam Hoger who was training with us at the time. Hoger had been training but for some reason he had stopped training during the fighter’s training time and he would come in and train on his own for three or four hours then he would leave when the fight team came in to train. We couldn’t understand what was going on. So Jens Pulver, one night when all the fighters were in the room, yelled at Hoger, basically saying where the fuck are you going? Hoger said “I’m done training. I’m going home.” Jens said “What do you mean you are done training? You haven’t trained with us for two weeks!” Hoger says “I just got done training. I train for four hours every day.” Jens said “You aren’t training because you aren’t training with us. If you want to be a part of this team you are going to train with the team.” Hoger said he was going home and Jens ran across the wrestling room and got in Hoger’s face and said “You either put your equipment on right now of I’m gonna fucking knock you out right where you stand.” So Hoger put his equipment on and from there on out he trained with the team.
Tony Reid- You have a legendary history as a street fighter long before stepping into the Octagon. Is there one story from the streets that you can share with us?
Pat Miletich- There have been a few. I only fought one time after becoming a professional fighter. That was when I got trapped in a bathroom. Actually Jens Pulver was in the bar at the time and he was outside the bathroom. I was in the bathroom waiting in line to use the urinal. It was a huge line. The line was like 25 guys deep. It was a huge bathroom. There were two guys getting ready to fight and I just said “Are you really going to get in a fight here and roll around in piss on the floor?” One of the guys walks up and said to me “I’m gonna kick your ass next.” The guy behind me knew me and he decided to introduce the guy to me. Unfortunately the guy then says “OK. I’ll be right back.” So he leaves the bathroom and I thought he wasn’t coming back. Well, he came back and it was him and three of his buddies who turned out to be Latin Kings from our area. I always knew it was important to point out that you didn’t want to fight in a pretty obvious way so you didn’t get in trouble if you ended up having to fight. They kept walking me backwards toward the back wall telling me how they were going to kick the shit out of me. I just put my hands up, out in front of me, opened my hands and told them I didn’t want to fight. As soon as I felt my back hit the wall I cracked the first one with a jab-cross just to stun him and get him off me but he went down then I smacked a couple of the other guys and then the bouncers came in and grabbed them. Well the interesting thing about it was the first guy I hit my cross collapsed his cheekbone and his orbital bone and his eye fell behind his cheekbone and collapsed the side of his head. He had to go have surgery and I caught wind that, sure enough, the guy wanted to sue me. They thought I would be in a lot of trouble. I thought great, I knew they wouldn’t win, but it was going to cost me money for attorneys. At the time I was training a few folks in law enforcement and they had a conversation with him when they saw him out one night. They knew he was a drug dealer and stuff and they simply said “If you file a lawsuit against Miletich we are not going to leave you alone and certainly eventually catch you selling drugs and you will go to federal prison.” So he decided not to file a lawsuit against me, which was nice. They persuaded that the direction he was going in was the wrong one.