Get ready to discover amazing stories and wise thoughts from the world of MMA! Pump It Up Magazine brings you an exclusive interview with UFC star Juliana “Killer” Miller, who recently became the Season 30 Ultimate Fighter champion. Juliana won this title at UFC Vegas 59 by defeating Brogan Walker in the third round with a knockout.
Get Set to Pump Your Life with Her Advice!
**How did your MMA journey begin and how has it impacted your mental resilience and well-being?
My MMA journey began when I was younger; I didn’t defend myself and ended up in a precarious situation. I then vowed to never let anyone touch me again. My friends encouraged me to buy a gun, but it’s impractical to rely solely upon a gun, especially in settings influenced by alcohol and substances. And in many places, you cannot even bring a firearm. That’s why I decided to focus on self-defense – specifically for women – and Jiu-Jitsu is perfect for that. Two years of intensive training ensued, marked by numerous competitions – where I was killing it – and that instilled confidence in me and my abilities. So I asked my coach, Manolo Hernandez, if I could teach a women’s self-defense class, and he said “f*** no, the only fight you were ever in you got ‘effed up.” Undeterred, I asked what it would take to instruct the course. His response: win three amateur MMA fights. I looked at him and I said, “Yes, sir.” And I did just that! I won my first three amateur fights, two of them in under a minute, and I even broke an opponent’s arm. I was then able to teach my women’s self-defense course! Ilima-Lei Macfarlane helped me, and about 45 women showed up. We hosted it at 10th Planet San Diego, and it was an incredible experience.
Simultaneously, my MMA matches became an outlet to release pent-up energy, offering a legal avenue to punch someone and not get into trouble. And considering everything I had been through, MMA etched a transformative chapter in my life and impacted my mental resilience and well-being because it gave me something positive to focus on while, at the same time, releasing my life troubles. This allowed me to work on my mental health by being physically active, while also helping other people through the women’s self-defense course. That really helped me because women – specifically those who have been through traumatic situations – often change their life where they stop going out and stop having fun, but I wanted the opposite: I wanted to learn how to feel confident in my daily life and activities, rather than being fearful, which is what happens to many people.
**What key insights or lessons did you gain from The Ultimate Fighter, especially regarding mental strength and self-discovery?
When I got the call about doing The Ultimate Fighter, I had just lost to Claire Guthrie at Invicta FC 44, so I didn’t think that I was a good fighter. I was actually preparing to join the Air Force. However when I got the message that they really wanted me to be on the Ultimate Fighter, in my head I had an, “eff it, this is my last opportunity” mentality. So from the second I got into quarantine, I flipped the script: I ran hard every day and while running I’d tell myself, “You’re the best, you’re the Ultimate Fighter Champion,” and I ingrained that into my soul. That’s the only thing I let myself think, especially when I would have severe doubts. And as I got into the TUF house I did the same thing. Although I was scared, my mentality was, “this is probably the last time I’m going to fight, so I’m going to go out as if it were my last fight and show the world who I am.” That was my mindset going into the fights, and while others were partying or hanging out with everyone, I locked myself in my room and would meditate, do yoga, and read quotes from my emotional intelligence courses. I was very reclusive and I didn’t want friends or to talk to people. All I wanted was to win and I knew what I had to do: take care of my weight and train hard, and then whatever was going to happen would happen.
That showed me what focus can do because pre-Ultimate Fighter, I was working four jobs: I worked at a cryotherapy facility; I was a personal assistant for a girl named Sarah that worked in cancer hospital; I puppy-sat on the weekends for Coach Bill, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (Former 5x Bellator MMA World Champion. Founder of @nawahinetoa foundation.)and Sarah;
and I worked at American Icon Photographs, so I never had time to just focus on training because I lived in San Diego and to pay bills and was trying to save money, so I was never able to focus solely on training, but while I was on TUF I was able to focus like never before. That was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t change for the world.
**Throughout your life, you’ve confronted adversities, including standing up against bullies. How did these challenges shape your self-worth and influence your path towards becoming a fighter? Any advice for others in similar situations?
Being honest, I hadn’t confronted adversities in my life. I was bullied in school. I was always the skinniest and smallest in my class. I had a best friend named Miranda and when people would pick on me she would say “eff off,” but occasionally she would bully me, too.
I was pushed around, people belittled me, and since I was so skinny and small and I didn’t have faith in myself, I was easily bullied and manipulated.
It wasn’t until I was around 19-20 years old when I faced those terrible things that happened to me, that I decided to learn self-defense and change my life. So, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve stood up to adversities.
These challenges shaped my self-worth in becoming a fighter because once I started, I saw that I could do it. It didn’t matter that I was smaller or weaker; all that mattered was I wanted to be there, I wanted to fight and I was very athletic, explosive and good at using my athleticism. And it was fun.
If you ask anyone from my childhood, they would laugh and say I am the last person they would have ever imagined becoming a UFC fighter.
My advice for people who are bullied or in a toxic or domestic violence relationship, is to find something that you’re passionate about and go for it. It could be soccer, volleyball, or whatever, but chase your passion and it will help pull you out of the situation you don’t want to be in. And find loved ones to support you, share your vision and stick to it. Of course, I believe that learning any form of Mixed Martial Arts is one of the best things you can do because it’s a healthy outlet for frustration, it’s good for every muscle group in your entire body, and it boosts confidence. So get yourself into a Jiu-Jitsu or Kickboxing class and do something to help you feel confident again.
**How has your journey influenced your understanding of mental health, and what advice do you offer to those facing abusive relationships or similar challenges?
Before I started this journey, I was at rock bottom and didn’t want to be alive. I thought so low of myself that I was hiding on my couch, not going anywhere, and some pretty severe things happened to where I almost left this planet. What pulled me out of it was being outwardly focused and saying “Hey, look, if I can do it, they can, too.” Meaning, if I can pull myself out of this, I can use my story to help motivate other people that are going through difficult times, and that helped get me out of the state I was in.
Drawing from personal experience, the one thing that I will tell anyone – although harsh – is that there is no certainty of any future – there’s no certainty we will make it in anything we’re going to do. So you have to be very strong-willed and tough skinned in the face of your trials and tribulations, meaning you have to work for it and constantly push yourself to be better in whatever field that makes you the happiest. The biggest thing is DON’T QUIT! Keep going and show up every day with a good attitude and be prepared to work hard.
**What encouraging advice would you offer to younger individuals struggling with self-esteem, trauma, or uncertainties about their future, drawing from your personal journey?
If I can do it, you can too. I was a nobody from Alpine. I was skinny and small. No one ever thought I was going to make it. My parents were broke. I didn’t come from a healthy background. I had a violent childhood and terrible relationships. I wasn’t supposed to make it, yet here I stand. So if I can do it, you can too! Anyone can create their dreams. Anything is possible if YOU make it your reality. You have to do it for yourself because nobody’s going to come and save you. That’s harsh advice, but it’s true.
**Besides MMA achievements, what drives your aspirations, especially in mental health advocacy or personal development?
Trying to be the best possible version of myself every day. Once you struggle with mental health issues, they don’t go away – they can either get better or worse, depending on you. Your brain is a muscle that you have to keep working daily in order to keep it strong. I had surgery on my left arm and haven’t been using it for 2 months, so it’s weak compared to my right arm. Thus, you have to use your brain muscle every day. I highly suggest getting involved in emotional intelligence courses – I’ll preach that forever, and it’s something I want to re-enroll in. As much as I’d like to say I learned my lesson and I’m a healed, perfect person, I still battle these mental health issues daily, and for me to be the best version of myself, I have to work this brain muscle constantly. The best way to do it is meditation, reading, writing, scribing – always working that brain muscle.
**Reflecting on your MMA success, how do you use your achievements, like winning The Ultimate Fighter, to inspire others in pursuing their goals?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve had the most MMA success yet. However, winning The Ultimate Fighter definitely gives me the confidence to say if I can do it, you can too. The thing I preached most on The Ultimate Fighter was that anything is possible and I truly believe that. Anything is possible and that’s something that I would love to instill into the next generation.
Something is not possible if you don’t believe that it is; you have to believe it and you can achieve it, BUT, it takes a lot of work for you to really be able to believe this and to do it. So, work on that brain muscle.
**Your dedication to empowering women and children facing abuse or assault is evident. How do you plan to continue supporting these individuals, and what steps do you believe are crucial in creating a safer environment for them within and beyond combat sports?
I plan on using my voice and the platform I’ve created to do positive outreach. Pre-COVID I held women’s self-defense courses at the YMCA, and I plan to continue holding such courses. In the near-future I will create online self-defense courses, and I will continue to preach to the world about the importance of self-defense for youth, because children are the most targeted, as they are the most vulnerable and the easiest to attack. I will always wholeheartedly preach to everyone about getting your children into self-defense, MMA, and specifically, Jiu-Jitsu classes.
I believe the most important step for creating a safer environment for women and children is getting them involved in self-defense. A gun at home isn’t going to save you from a bad situation, but self-awareness will. Not only do these classes create self-awareness, but they work your brain muscle, they create confidence, and they teach you the specific moves necessary for each situation. For example, if someone is grabbing your throat, you’ll know how to defend yourself. And defense isn’t about beating someone up; it’s about removing yourself from the situation, such as getting their hands off you so you can get away to safety. And I think that is most important.
**Looking ahead, how would you like to be remembered for your contributions to mental health awareness and the MMA world?
I’m not sure how I want to be remembered. I feel I have quite a path ahead of me of things I would like to accomplish, but if there is one human out there, who my voice could have helped or inspired, then that is enough for me. I do want to be remembered as a champion, as a person who helped change the world to make it a better place, but I don’t feel I have fulfilled those tasks yet. I have quite a bit of work to do before I feel like I deserve to be remembered and acknowledged as somebody incredible and great so, I’d better get back to work.
Juliana “Killer” Miller, a standout figure in the MMA arena, was born on May 7, 1996, in San Diego, California. Standing at 5’7″ with a reach of 66.0″, this 27-year-old fighter has made significant strides in the Flyweight division, representing Team Hurricane Awesome.
Her journey in combat sports commenced with a pursuit of self-defense through Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Her undefeated streak of 6-0 in the amateur circuit highlighted her evolving skill set. Transitioning to the professional realm, she secured victories in prominent events such as California Cage Wars 13 and Invicta FC, showcasing her talent and determination.
Juliana “Killer” Miller’s crowning moment arrived during Season 30 of “The Ultimate Fighter” (TUF), a prestigious event broadcast on ESPN+. Her expedition in the competition underscored her exceptional skills and unwavering resolve, triumphing over two formidable opponents to secure her place in the final match.
On August 6, 2022, the high-stakes final match unfolded at the UFC Apex facility in Nevada. Miller’s extraordinary performance resonated emphatically as she displayed unmatched prowess and resilience in the Octagon, culminating in a resounding victory. This monumental achievement solidified her status as the triumphant winner of TUF Season 30, reflecting her unwavering commitment and marking a pivotal milestone in her illustrious MMA career.
“I will never forget where I came from, when I started, when I had nothing,” she said. “Why I fight is because of where I came from. I want to show the world. I want to show the world that you can overcome your issues. I did not have an easy life growing up. And I will say this is the most stable I’ve ever been. And I learned I’m actually not an underdog. I’m a 4 to 1 favorite this fight. So this is more for me to speak about where I came from and what makes me such a heart-filled fighter. When I fight, I fight with heart. It’s not just some moves that I learned. This is me letting out my life and wanting to build, wanting to build my name, my brand, so that way I can make a difference in the world.”
Juliana “Killer” Miller remains steadfast in her missions: to empower women and children through self-defense training and to pursue her passion for fighting. Her dedication is evident in her rigorous training at 10th Planet San Diego and Team Hurricane Awesome. Her journey, marked by triumphs and challenges, serves as an inspiration to aspiring athletes, embodying the spirit of perseverance in the relentless pursuit of excellence.
She serves as a beacon of inspiration, pumping up the lives of women and children, instilling confidence, and teaching valuable self-defense skills. Her commitment to uplifting and empowering others outside the ring resonates deeply within her endeavors to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those she touches.
Juliana Miller presently represents Sikjitsu, having moved from her team in San Diego to train in Spokane!
Sikjitsu is a renowned mixed martial arts (MMA) training camp and gym based in Spokane, Washington. Founded by Rick Little, Sikjitsu has gained recognition for producing skilled fighters in the world of MMA. The gym provides a comprehensive training program that covers various aspects of MMA, including striking, grappling, wrestling, conditioning, and mental preparation. Little’s coaching philosophy, encapsulated in the phrase,
“You’re not allowed to block a body shot in my gym,” underscores his emphasis on mental toughness.
While some might question this approach, it undeniably underscores the importance of both physical and mental strength in fighting. Ultimately, the gym’s suitability depends on one’s training objectives: for those seeking to toughen their mentality and fortify their resolve, Sik-Jitsu could be the perfect fit.
Fighters who train at Sikjitsu benefit from the expertise of experienced coaches and trainers who aim to develop well-rounded athletes capable of competing at high levels in MMA competitions. Sikjitsu has garnered attention for nurturing talented fighters and helping them reach their full potential in the sport.
Juliana “Killer” Miller’s association with Sikjitsu signifies her commitment to furthering her skills and evolving as a fighter under the guidance of the gym’s training regimen and coaching staff.
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Juliana “Killer” Miller’s victories in her professional MMA career include:
- TKO (Punches and Elbows) against Brogan Walker at UFC on ESPN 40 – Santos vs. Hill on August 6, 2022
- Decision (Unanimous) against McKenna Mitchell at WCE – West Coast Elite MMA 1 on March 3, 2018
- Submission (Armbar) against Mary Almario at Epic Fighting – Epic 35 on August 18, 2017
- Submission (Armbar) against Odeatha Marshall at Epic Fighting – Epic 34 on May 12, 2017
- TKO (Punches) against Yasnaya Perez at CCW – California Cage Wars 5 on April 22, 2018
- Submission (Triangle Choke) against Damara Vargas at AFC 4 – AZTK Fighting Championship 4 on March 31, 2018
Photo credits Juan Cardenas @desautomatas