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Lyme disease left Jim Miller with severe fatigue and ‘brain fog,’ but he still battled back to win at UFC 228

MMAJunkie logo MMAJunkie 9/9/2018 Ben Fowlkes
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Jim Miller knew the pressure was on coming into UFC 228. He was riding a four-fight losing streak in the UFC, with the last of those coming via first-round knockout.

He also knew what had been holding him back, and it all started with a tick bite that he didn't even notice at the time.

That bite, which Miller said he likely suffered some time in the late spring of 2013, left Miller struggling with Lyme disease without even knowing it. That struggle sapped his strength and energy, which made training for a professional fight an overwhelming chore that Miller somehow suffered through largely in silence.

"The journey that I've been on, it's tough for me because I don't want people to know," Miller (29-12 MMA, 18-11 UFC) said backstage at UFC 228. "I don't want them to know what I'm going through. I don't want them to experience it themselves, I don't want them to have a loved one experience it. And the most messed up part is that my Lyme disease is not that bad, comparatively, to some people I've met.

"It sucks, and the last six or eight months I've felt pretty damn good. I've been able to train in a way that gets me ready to do my best inside the octagon. That's something I hadn't been able to do in a long time."

That change showed in the result, as Miller quickly hurt Alex White with strikes and then finished him with a rear-naked choke on the prelim portion of UFC 228 in Dallas on Saturday night. It was his first win since 2016, and one he needed as much for psychological reasons as for career ones.

According to Miller, beginning in about 2015 he was severely hobbled by the symptoms of his Lyme disease, which doctors were somewhat slow to diagnose. Even though he fought three times that year, he had to essentially abandon his usual strength and conditioning program, Miller said.

"If I did a light circuit or I bench pressed 185 pounds I'd feel like I lifted a boulder off my chest," said Miller. "I wouldn't be able to move for three days."

He suffered from major joint pain, and also from what's often referred to as "brain fog," a cognitive impairment that can be caused by the swelling in the brain due to Lyme disease. As Miller put it, he'd set out to do something as simple as cleaning out his garage, only to end up standing there unsure of what to do next.

"It was all things that I thought were associated with being a professional fighter," Miller said. "Like, well, I say the wrong word every now and then. Eh, I use my head as a weapon. What do you expect?"

Getting a diagnosis and then attacking the disease with help from a different nutrition plan made big differences, and by the spring of 2018 he thought he might finally be back to his former self. He had energy in the gym again, and he expected to turn things around in his April bout against Dan Hooker.

"Then I got poked in the eye, and I saw three of him, and then he kneed me in the face," Miller said. "That's just the way that it goes. I was a little salty about that one, because I fought guys that probably would acknowledge it, and I've fought guys that probably wouldn't. (Hooker) didn't, and that's just the way it goes. He doesn't have to. He doesn't have to have that level of sportsmanship."

Coming into this fight, Miller said, he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform. He felt like he was still the same fighter he used to be, and with his Lyme disease under control, he was finally confident that he could show it again.

To do so with a win over White (12-5 MMA, 3-5 UFC) was both a relief and a form of validation, especially after doubting whether he could still compete in this sport during the low points of his struggles with Lyme disease.

"I expect the most of myself, and when I haven't done it it's a letdown to me," Miller said. "I don't care what anybody else thinks. I'm going out there to perform for myself. I'm one of those guys that, I'd probably fight if there wasn't a UFC card, if there wasn't UFC 228. Like, 'hey, you want to fight in a basement somewhere?' Why not, let's give it a shot. It's the test. I like the test."

For complete coverage of UFC 228, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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