THE BREAKOUT WIN IS ALWAYS THE ONE

There is not a top flight athlete or coach who doesn’t face it eventually–that game, that fight, that match where it is all on the line to breakout. To finally win either a championship of something so meaningful to distinguish this accomplishment from others, to show they are on track to becoming a real star in their sport.

Jason “Mayhem” Miller has such a challenge Saturday night against Michael Bisping in The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale. Although Miller is the most interesting MMA person around, a star already in many respects with his popular “Bully Beat Down” show on MTV and his own Sirius Radio show. To some he is as recognizable as any champion already. And this might be his blessing and curse, fame with limited game so far. But most have always thought he was worthy of more, talented enough to be a force in the middleweight ranks.

Instead Miller is like Phil Mickelson was before the 2004 Masters, one of the best to have never won a major anything. Of course Mickelson went on to prove he is one of golf’s elite, a Hall of Famer, a threat every time he steps up to the tee in a big tourney. And every athlete that has the title of ‘great” has had to endure this. Michael Jordan had to hit that first clutch winning basket, Tom Brady had to make that game clinching touchdown drive.

This year in college basketball coach John Calipari of Kentucky faces similar pressure. Arguably the greatest recruiter in the game but never a national title. A Final Four with Massachusetts and within a minute of a championship at Memphis against Kansas, but close doesn’t carry the same shine as clutch, champion, serious contender does. Every article near tourney time will point this out, incredibly good, almost there, but.

Fair or not that is what this sports society demands, champs or those who might become one. Make us laugh and clap our hands, that’s swell but really gain our respect by your actions in the cage or court or field.

Miller took Georges St. Pierre the distance before losing a unanimous decision. He lost to Chael Sonnen and Tim Kennedy and avenged the latter defeat. He has a couple of minor titles, beating Robbie Lawler for the Icon Sports Middleweight Belt in ’06 and two years earlier defeating Ronald Jhun for something called the Superbrawl championship.

His moments have been flashes leaving fans wanting more. The Icon crown was short lived, losing his first defense to Frank Trigg. He was a split second away from finishing off Jake Shields for the Strikeforce Middleweight championship but didn’t and lost. He was in control of Ronaldo Souza in the Dream Tournament before an ill advised, lapse of reality soccer kick from Miller turned it into a no contest.

A win over Bisping, who does have a history of finishing his opponents exceeding that of Miller’s, would be a giant step forward showing that the “Mayhem” show is now more of a focused fighter with amazing skills who can be a force to be reckoned with in the division. Miller has always been on that cusp and this is his biggest challenge, largest stage, since the loss to Shields.

When it comes to entertaining, he’s already in his own Hall of Fame–the King of the Walkout. A five minute party of dazzling artistic display that puzzlingly, ironically becomes a very methodical fighter with a solid ground game but unable to close the big deal in the cage.

Miller is a worthy opponent for anyone. This weekend he has the chance, and maybe his last even though the Georgia native is only 30, to prove he is more than the fun loving thrill ride of controversy that is Mayhem. Maybe this Saturday night fight fans can see who Jason really is and is he really ready to stake a claim as a true contender with a breakout win.

-Kenny Rice.

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