It is said that a high-level wrestling game is the best base discipline for a successful career in mixed martial arts, and Ohio’s Maurice Miller (3-0) looks to continue to prove the adage right at LFA 90.
The 28-year-old Miller, an NCAA D-II wrestling standout from Notre Dame College (Ohio), will take on fellow undefeated prospect Mando Gutierrez (4-0) at Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) 90 from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday.
For Miller, the fight marks yet another step toward the culmination of a life of passion for the martial arts.
“At age 6 I started Tae Kwon Do,” Miller told MMA-Prospects. “My parents kind of made me and my brothers. [In] fifth grade I wanted to try wrestling, when I saw a flyer in my school about the upcoming youth season.”
The decision to partake in youth wrestling proved to be a momentous one for Miller, who would go on to find success as a high school and collegiate wrestler.
Miller was a four-year letterman on the McKinley High School wrestling team, where he set the record for most single-season wins in school history and notched two district qualifications.
During his collegiate career, Miller earned two All-American honors and posted a near 77% winning rate with his 95-29 record as part of the nine-time national championship-winning Notre Dame College wrestling team.
MMA wasn’t always the ultimate ambition for Miller – who told local outlet CantonRep his initial plans for international wrestling competition were “not going as I expected” – but it was consistently something the bantamweight was interested in pursuing.
“During college, I was [often] around MMA fighters, and I always thought I could be good at, so when I graduated I decided to try it out,” said Miller.
Miller’s interest in MMA, and his initial favorite fighters when he began following the sport closely, reflect his appreciation for possessing a multi-faceted style.
“Some of my favorite fighters to watch were [longtime UFC flyweight champion] Demetrious Johnson (30-3-1) and [multiple-time UFC light heavyweight champion] Jon Jones (21-6, 1 NC) because their skill sets and how smart they are as fighters.”
Miller’s path to MMA excellence has followed a similar route to both Johnson and Jones, who also began their careers as wrestlers. In 2016, Miller kicked off his fighting career as an amateur, competing as a featherweight on the local regional circuit.
Unlike most fighters, who either do not compete as amateurs before making their professional debuts or do so only briefly, Miller took his time on the amateur scene. From 2016 to 2019, Miller competed in six amateur bouts against opponents who possessed an uncommonly impressive combined record, 18-6.
This was by design, explains Miller.
“I continued my [amateur] career [rather than turning professional sooner] because I wanted to make sure I fought tough opponents and got enough experience before I turned pro,” the 28-year-old revealed.
Miller’s amateur career, like his professional career to date, was flawless. An immaculate 6-0 record was bolstered by three knockout victories and capped off with a signature accomplishment, a local championship win, the World Fighting Championship (WFC) amateur featherweight title.
Today, Miller continues his growth and success as a mixed martial artist inside the red-accented walls of Strongstyle Training Center in Cleveland, Ohio, the home of UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic (20-3), UFC veterans Jeff Hughes (10-3) and Aleksa Camur (6-0), and a host of other rising talents.
“I train out of Strongstyle in Cleveland Ohio, my main partners are [Ohio amateurs] Brandon Birr (6-1), Ben Willeford (5-1), Larry Bell (1-1), [and Ohio regional veteran] Izzy William (4-3).”
Miller lauds his gym’s and its coaches’ abilities for his continued improvement and success in his young career, and when asked of his favorite training memory, Miller pointed to a rather unorthodox means of learning the so-called ‘sweet science.’
“My favorite memory from training is 2-on-1 boxing,” recalled Miller. “[I had] never experienced that before Strong Style, and it was tough and a lot of fun.”
In his fourth professional fight, Miller will make his promotional debut in LFA, a promotion known as a top developmental organization in the MMA industry with a wide audience on the UFC’s proprietary streaming platform, UFC Fight Pass.
“I got a call to compete in LFA late February, but it was a week after my last fight,” said Miller of an initial, unfruitful opportunity to fight for LFA. The promotion was quick to try to book Miller again, however.
“Then they contacted me again late July [for to the Gutierrez fight]. LFA is giving me a bigger platform to showcase my skillset, so I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” Miller said.
Miller told MMA-Prospects that his training was not largely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, explaining that “During the pandemic, I had a small place to train with everything I needed, so, the pandemic didn’t slow me down at all.”
With his training unimpeded and a fight offer from LFA, Miller’s upcoming bout with Mando Gutierrez was finalized.
Gutierrez, 23, has had a markedly similar career to Miller’s to date.
Gutierrez amassed a 7-0 record as an amateur from 2018 to 2019, piling up six submission victories by stranglehold variants and capturing a regional amateur featherweight title in Michigan’s Lights Out Championship against opposition with an admittedly pedestrian combined record of 17-14.
As a professional, Gutierrez continued his grappling dominance with four straight submission wins by choke to kick off his career. Most recently Gutierrez earned his first win in the LFA cage, defeating Iowa’s Jeff Jepsen (5-3) by first-round submission at LFA 86 just over a month ago.
Despite Gutierrez’s apparent preference for grappling, Miller says he is prepared for anything against his undefeated opponent.
“I watched some of my opponents fights just to get an idea of what he likes to do, but different opponents make different fights. I might see something different from him in our fight, so I prepared for every position.”
As far as how the fight might play out, Miller pointed to his own style and fighting mentality as a sign of what may be to come.
“I would describe my fighting style as very calculated and aggressive. My favorite techniques are spinning attacks because they’re hard to see coming,” said the entertaining Miller, who notes that “My ideal fight would be a one-punch knockout or slam knockout in the first round!”
Ultimately, however, Miller sees the fight ending in just one manner: with his name announced as its victor.
“I see our fight ending with a finish and my hand raised on Friday,” said Miller.
Should Miller emerge victorious against Gutierrez, it would mark the biggest victory of his MMA career. While Miller is young in his career and hesitant to look past a stiff test in Gutierrez, he raises his ambition to compete for a bigger prize in his immediate future.
“After a win Friday, I would like to challenge for the title if possible. If not, I’ll take any opportunity I can get; I’m not looking past my opponent, so I will discuss with my team what’s next after the fight.”
The LFA bantamweight title, which is currently vacant, will be contested on the same fight card as Miller’s bout with Gutierrez, as undefeated prospects Ricky Steele (6-0) and Zviad Lazishvili (12-0) clash in the main event of LFA 90.
Maurice “Mo” Miller will look to continue the Strong Style team’s 2020 momentum in the wake of Stipe Miocic’s massive trilogy victory over future UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier (22-3) at August’s UFC 252 with a win over Mando Gutierrez at LFA 90 on Friday, September 4th.
In an interview with James Lynch of MyMMANews, Miller pointed to that momentum as a running theme for the gym.
“I think that was amazing to watch,” Miller told MyMMANews. “I think me having a fight coming up and watching him train and prepare for that fight. I think that inspired me and helped me a lot in this camp. Like it’s always good when he gets the job done, it’s like a path to follow. We had amateur Jarold, who just fought in Florida I think he was first for us to fight this summer. He got a 19-second KO and then Stipe was after him. So that’s good momentum, then it’s me, [then] Aleksa, [then] Jeff Hughes.”