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Photo: Miller (right) fights Jamal Williams in August at MontBlue Theater.
Secretary of State Ross Miller won the 2010 election with more than 53 percent of the popular vote; his closest competition came in at 37 percent. But even that convincing of a win pales in comparison to the victory over his latest opponent.
In addition to being the State of Nevada’s third-highest ranking official, Miller is a mixed martial arts fighter, and in his first—and he says only—bout on August 18, the 6-foot-4, 203-pound politician won a mere 30 seconds into the fight’s second round.
We caught up with Miller in September during a workout at Reno’s dual Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy and Nevada Muay Thai to find out how he rolls with the punches—and arm bars, guillotine chokes, and elbow uppercuts—at work and in the ring.
Q: It’s unique that a politician would also be an MMA fighter. How did you get started in this sport?
A: I got into it about three or four years ago. I used to play basketball for exercise, but six knee surgeries limited my ability to play. I was on the elliptical at the South Reno Athletic Club one day, completely bored with my workout, and I saw these [fighters] training and asked them about the sport and tried to find out how I could take a class. I took one class, and it became my passion.
Q: Why were you so drawn to MMA?
A: The sport is very challenging physically, but more than anything it’s the mental challenge that continues to draw me in. It’s like a chess match; there’s a tremendous amount of strategy and mental resilience involved. Your mind will give you a million reasons to quit, but you’ve got to have the strength to fight through it and continue to get up and keep at it on a daily basis and continue training.
Q: Your job and your hobby each take a lot of time. How do you balance them?
A: I just fit [the training] in wherever I can during my schedule. I try to do strength and conditioning workouts in the morning, find a class or two or three throughout the week, and add some private lessons, too. When I’m in Las Vegas, about once a week, I usually try to go to the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] headquarters and train with some fighters there.
Q: It’s a big election year. Does that make it harder to stick to your training regimen?
A: I just always try to make it a priority and make time for it—before work, for an hour or two if I get a break in my schedule during the day…I’ll call some other fighters to see when they can fit in a workout.
Q: Do you find that there are parallels between being an MMA fighter and Nevada’s chief election officer?
A: The fighting has helped me build a level of mental toughness that I didn’t have before. In training, you’re going to get beat up, and there are some similarities to politics. In politics you get punched in the nose, too. The biggest difference is that with actual fighting, the battle marks occasionally show on your face.
Q: You’ve gotten a lot of attention since your first fight. How have you been dealing with that?
A: Obviously, it’s just a novelty. I don’t think there are too many political officials out there actively training in mixed martial arts. But it’s a young sport, so I don’t think that novelty will exist for long. I anticipate that soon it won’t be all that uncommon to see people of all walks of life training [in mixed martial arts]. I train with attorneys, surgeons, doctors…all kinds of working professionals who use this as a hobby. I regularly train with Reno Police Chief Steve Pitts. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo and trains in Muay Thai.
Q: Do you get any special treatment at the gym as a politician?
A: They definitely give me grief about politics when they can. But I think that just comes with training in any gym. To them I’m just another guy on the mat. There’s a lot of camaraderie.
Q: With your victory, do you think you might have won a couple of votes at the gym that maybe you wouldn’t have received before?
A: I hope so! I gave out plenty of T-shirts that read: “My secretary of state can arm bar your secretary of state.”
Q: You’ve been very clear to point out that the August 18 fight would be your first and last. It’s been about a month…is that still the case?
A: Still one-and-done. You can get away with it once and label it a bucket-list item, but if you do it a second time—as an elected official—people start to wonder whether or not you’re all there and worry about whether or not you’re giving enough attention to the job they’ve entrusted you with.
Q: When you’re not training, we understand that you and your family travel around the state quite a bit. What are your favorite places in Nevada to visit?
A: We live in Reno, and when the weather is nice, we make the 30-minute drive from our house up to Lake Tahoe as often as possible. My parents live in Las Vegas, so we also shuttle their grandkids down to Las Vegas about once a month or so where [my wife] Lesley and I still have a great group of friends and love trying out the newest restaurants in town. Then, we try to keep an eye out for events around the state for weekend getaways. We love The Great Reno Balloon Race, the Nevada Day Parade in Carson City, the Boulder City 4th of July Damboree Parade, the White Pine County Fair and Horse Races, and the Labor Day parades in Winnemucca, Elko, Fallon, and Fernley.
WORTH A VISIT
Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy
1335 Airmotive Dr., Reno, NV 89502
Nevada Muay Thai
1335 Airmotive Dr., Reno, NV 89502