The fans were just beginning to enter the AO Arena when Nathaniel Collins and Zak Miller walked to the ring to kick off the recent Magnificent Seven bill in Manchester. By the time the final bell tolled in the British and Commonwealth featherweight title fight, almost everybody in attendance stood and applauded the pair.
After twelve intense rounds, Collins retained his titles with a razor close majority decision. The relatively unknown Miller might not have left the AO Arena as a champion, but he did leave with the respect of boxing fans and the self-belief that he has what it takes to reach the top.
“As soon as the fight got announced I was excited for it. The first press conference was in London and I went down there with a big smile on my face, full of confidence,” Miller told BoxingScene. “I enjoyed the press conference during fight week and took half of Manchester to the weigh in. I enjoyed everything. I’d go and do the full thing again now if I could.”
Much was made of the fact that although Miller was unbeaten, Collins was his first opponent with a winning record. But even if his professional opponents haven’t allowed him to show his true potential, those who have seen Miller working with his trainer, Steve Maylett, at The Finest Gym in Manchester City centre appreciated how talented he is. What nobody - maybe even Miller himself - could be certain of was what would happen if the fight became a long, hard gruelling battle.
They needn’t have worried. Yes, Miller’s heart and determination earned plenty of plaudits but maybe the most impressive and important part of his performance was how well he kept his shape and how he managed the fight. There was plenty of blood and guts on display but it was also a technical war.
“I understood he’s a good champion and he’s avoided in a way because he’s been knocking everybody out,” he said. “I knew it would be a tough fight but I got in there knowing I’d done everything right in the gym. I enjoy fight night anyway and getting there to a big arena, I loved it. I knew exactly what needed to be done, the corner was great and Steve talked me through the fight. I had to adapt at times. I was more than capable of doing that.
“I got in there and felt comfortable right away. I made him fall short and made him pay with a right hand. It’s what we’ve been doing in the gym. Other things fell into place and everything we’d done in the gym was perfect for what I needed to do on fight night.”
The dream scenario would have been for Miller to have had his hand raised and left as the champion. It wasn’t to be but, result apart, things couldn’t have gone much better for the 26 year old.
At the beginning of the year, Miller was battling away on the North West small hall scene and looking for an opportunity to break out. He ended it having been involved in one of the best all British fights of the year.
He impressed everybody involved with the promotion with the way he handled a large event and also sold a few hundred tickets which tends to leave a lasting impression on promoters. Most importantly though, he proved to himself and those around him that he has the unteachable qualities required to go a long way in the sport.
“I’m not stupid, I’m a realist. I knew it was close. It wasn’t going to be wide either way,” Miller said. “That’s why I couldn’t moan. I don’t think he’d have moaned if it had gone my way by a round. It was a very close fight. It was a draw on one card and I thought the scorecards were fair enough. He’s the champion and you’ve got to go and rip the belts off them.
“He’s a good champion and a very good champion at that. Somebody said, ‘Oh, he’s exposed Nathaniel.’ Well, no. I don’t think I have. I just think I showed how good I am.
“I don’t see that as a loss. I’ve gained. I still see myself as an undefeated fighter in a sense. I know I’ve got a loss on my record but it doesn’t mean sh!t. I’ve gone in there and proven myself. I showed I belong at the top of the domestic scene at featherweight.”
Miller now needs to capitalize on the momentum he has created. He was back in the gym the week after the fight and will be chasing more title opportunities in the New Year.
“I need something to get my teeth into. I believe only good is going to come from that performance. Whether that’s another domestic dust up or I could get offered something in Europe, you never know, strange things happen. I’ll stick in the gym, keep listening to Steve and I’ll be ready for whatever’s next.”