This is number fifty in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re honored to feature legendary MMA fighter, coach, and broadcaster, Pat Miletich. “The Croatian Sensation" was the first UFC welterweight champion. He went on to found Miletich Fighting Systems and trained other MMA greats like Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes, and Tim Sylvia. Miletich currently excels as a broadcaster, doing color commentary for AXS TV. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Pat Miletich: My first experience with martial arts was beating up a guy who attacked me with nunchucks when I was a sophomore in high school. It scared the shit out of me because he was using two at the same time and actually looked good doing it. I left college because my mom got sick with heart problems, and I was working three jobs to pay bills. A guy I poured concrete with told me a kickboxer could beat up a wrestler. So I went to the gym to find out. He wasn't correct, but I fell in love with Karate and Thai boxing right away.
JB: What do you recall about your first night of professional MMA fights, a trio of wins at the Battle of the Masters 1 back in 1995, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
PM: I just remember knowing that I needed the money more than everyone else in the tourney and that I came in great shape. I was probably better prepared than the rest of the guys in the tourney, in terms of all around skills, so I figured I could win it.
JB: You were 15-0 before your first loss, to Matt Hume, due to a doctor's stoppage. What made you so successful during that early undefeated run and how did you react to the loss?
PM: I had zero fear at that point in my career. Like they say, "I didn't know what I didn't know." I learned a lot from the fight with Matt Hume, and that loss is probably the biggest reason I ended up winning a UFC title eventually. Matt was the #1 guy in the world at the time and had flawless technique. Matt is one of the greatest all around fighters in the sport’s history, and I have great respect for him. The guys he trains will tell you he is amazing both standing and on the ground. He is extremely bright and slick.
JB: You were 17-1-1 when you debuted in the UFC at UFC 16, and you went on to have a UFC record of 8-2. You also won the UFC welterweight championship and defended it four times. Of those ten fights, what were your most satisfying performances?
PM: Winning the first welterweight tourney was a good feeling. None really stand out though.
JB: There's been discussion in recent years that guys like you and Frank Shamrock deserve to be recognized as UFC Hall of Famers. What would having that particular distinction mean to you and how would you compare yourself to the other great welterweights in UFC history like Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, and George St. Pierre ?
PM: All those guys have contributed huge things to the sport. I was "that guy" before the sport really exploded and I held the belt for a good run. As my life has progressed, I have tried to contribute to the sport in any worthwhile capacity I could find. I tried to be the best at competing, coaching, and broadcasting and 110% effort is all that matters in the end. I can look at myself in the mirror and be satisfied with what I have accomplished. The HOF thing doesn't weigh on my thoughts.
JB: Your final two fights were in the famed IFL. What did you appreciate about that promotion and how did you feel about fighting at that point of your career?
PM: I enjoyed the team aspect of the IFL, and we (the coaches) created a lot of quality young fighters in a very short time. Almost everyone said I was crazy for selecting all young and relatively inexperienced guys for my team. I selected them because I saw potential in all of them and knew I could build a group of guys who could win for years. It was unfortunate the IFL didn't survive, but I learned a lot from watching the IFL heads make mistakes. Fighting at that point in my career was probably very stupid. My neck was destroyed and four different neurosurgeons told me I was going to end up in a wheel chair if I didn't have surgery. Never did get the surgery. What the hell do doctors know anyway? A lot more than a stubborn fighter, I guess. Ha-ha.
JB: You have trained, and trained with, so many of the greats over the years. Who are just some of the ones that stand out?
PM: That's a tough question. I had 90 guys make it to televised fights while I was coaching them and several world champs. Each person has left a mark in my memory and life. I hope I did the same for them.
JB: You are one of the top broadcasters in MMA. What have been some of your best experiences in that role?
PM: There have been a lot of exciting fights and crazy things happen, but meeting the people in the industry and being taught by them is what I enjoy the most. Each network that I have worked for, whether it was AXS TV, Showtime Sports, or ESPN, has been a great experience. A broadcast is the work of a group of people who must work together. One person screws up his job and a lot can go wrong. You quickly learn that everyone is just a spoke in the wheel and everyone has an important role. As far as on-camera roles, live TV can be stressful, but it's also very rewarding. I'm just the color analyst, which means I am the "what" and "why" guy. I am the one who is supposed to inform the fans of what is truly happening and why it's happening that way. When you have competed and coached for twenty years, it's a fairly easy job if you can spit out the info fast and simple enough for the fans at home. The hardest on-camera job would be play by play. That's the job that Michael Schiavello and Mauro Ranallo do. People have no idea the amount of material these guys need to remember for the opening of a broadcast. Play by play guys are the quarterbacks of a broadcast and are extremely valuable to the personality and value of the show. Without a very talented person in this position, a broadcast quickly spirals into a really bad place. In the end, it is the people, and the overall education of the broadcasting side of things, that I will always remember, not the fights.
JB: When you take time to get away from MMA, what things do you enjoy doing these days?
PM: I really enjoy watching my 8 and 10 year old daughters in swim meets with my wife. They have really started to blossom as people and athletes and have accepted their roles in a brutally hard sport. Their coach is a close friend and former Navy SEAL, who runs extremely hard practices and does not allow kids to take the easy way out. Watching children that young, swimming 2-3 miles a practice, is impressive stuff. It's really paying off in terms of my kids learning work ethic and being hardnosed. I also enjoy fishing, golfing, and target shooting with my guns when I get time.
JB: You've accomplished so much through your many roles in the world of MMA. What plans or goals do you still have, and what issues are most important to you in the sport?
PM: I am always working on new goals, TV projects, business ventures, etc. I'll probably keep chugging along until the day I die at writing TV show concepts.
Judging and reffing issues in the sport seem to be one of the most glaring problems I see in MMA. There are many good ones, but, man, there are some horrible ones also. Fighters get suspended for doing things wrong. Officials should suffer the same fate if they aren't showing competence in their job.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @patmiletich and @Jackjohnbrown on Twitter.
Visit Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews and blogs.
Thank you to @KirikJenness for @theUG.
Related MMA gear from the UG Store