On a sweltering June afternoon, Ross Miller is blowing off steam in an expansive warehouse-cum-gym near the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. His current job as Nevada’s secretary of state requires him to oversee the state’s recent primary elections, yet the 38-year-old is in the midst of a bruising contest of his own—he’s running for attorney general—and is dealing with the pressure by trading punches with Reno’s chief of police, Steve Pitts, a compact, fit Bikram-yoga lover.
In one corner of the gym, a franchise of the Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy where many members of Nevada law enforcement work out, sits an octagonal cage; another holds a boxing ring. Punching bags line the walls. Several of the men exercising alongside Miller—professional mixed-martial-arts (MMA) athletes prepping for upcoming bouts—have shaved heads, thickly muscled thighs, and tattoos crawling up their necks. But the clean-shaven, well-manicured Miller, whom the Washington Post named one of the top 10 rising stars in politics last year, seems at home here. It’s where he slips off to between stump speeches, fund-raising appearances, and his day job. MMA is Miller’s latest fitness obsession, replacing basketball (he played one year of college hoops in Mexico before transferring to Stanford). “I’ve had six basketball-related knee surgeries and have spent too much time bored to tears on the elliptical,” Miller says. “One evening I noticed some guys doing MMA training at my gym. I was intrigued. I’ve been completely hooked since.”
MMA comprises various combat styles—jujitsu, karate, boxing, wrestling. Miller practices them all. Today the men are sparring in muay Thai, a discipline that involves much kicking and punching. “Ross! Use your height to your advantage,” urges the club’s head trainer, Casey Balkenbush. Miller rushes Pitts and slams an elbow into his clavicle. Pitts, who at less than six feet is significantly smaller than the six-foot-four, 235-pound Miller, spins away and returns with a shin to Miller’s backside. After another 30 minutes of pummeling, Miller and Pitts shake hands. It’s all very civilized. “It’s an honest sport,” Miller says. “Size and athletic ability matter less than skill. The training can be very humbling.”
Miller learned that early on while sparring with a twentysomething female highway-patrol officer who was “about five feet tall and maybe 100 pounds.” The gym was crowded that evening, so when Miller found his neck trapped between her thighs, he refused to quit. “I was stubborn—I thought I could escape,” he recalls. “She kept applying the choke; it was clear I was going to lose consciousness unless I tapped out.” A few weeks later, his throat still aching, Miller visited his physician. “Turns out I had a fractured trachea, all because of my ego,” he says.
Bruised ego notwithstanding, it didn’t stop Miller from getting back in the cage. He’s even competed in a sanctioned fight, beating Jamal Williams by TKO in the second round. “I promised my wife one and done,” he says of the match. “Voters might think I’m not serious about my job if I were to fight again.”
Source: Details | Dana Sullivan Kilroy