Kickboxer Mark “Fightshark” Miller is not one of those chest-pounding types. Well, he doesn't pound his own chest, that's for sure. Finely tuned athletes in the world of dudes-fighting-dudes may give off an air of braggadocio — they brawl for a living, after all, and a double helping of bro-style swagger can win fights.
But Miller has nothing left to prove.
“We're sitting in Moscow, 10 minutes before the fight, and this guy's out in the hallway, screaming war chants,” says Miller's cornerwoman (and friend) Shelby Jones. “Mark was asleep. We literally had to wake him up to fight the biggest fight of his life.”
The term fight of his life could refer to any number of events in Miller's past. But the match in question, in 2011, saw him obliterate his first opponent in five years in little more than 20 seconds.
Some of the other fights of his life were not televised. In the five-year stretch before the Moscow match, the L.A.-based kickboxer lost his mother, his father, his brother and his best friend. He also saw his martial arts career curtailed by a car accident and open-heart surgery.
Any of those things might be enough to put an aging pugilist permanently to rest. But Miller put it all back together for that rapid knockout — becoming, in the process, the only fighter ever to return to the ring after open-heart surgery.
At 39, the Pittsburgh native continues to fight, guided by Jones on matters of strength and conditioning. (On March 23, he took on a Russian nearly 10 years his junior, although he lost that match.) A native of Newbury Park, Jones, who declines to give her age, also monitors Miller's nutrition.
Initially trained in dance and opera, Jones performed as a burlesque diva and model before hitting the nutrition books and learning fight conditioning. The two friends met after a botched date a few years ago — one Jones was “not on” with one of Miller's friends — and formed a quick bond. Beyond their chiseled, tattooed frames and mutual love of the fight, both are hard-nosed and witty: haute-cultured bookish types who also can kick your ass.
The duo is so likable that Anthony Bourdain's new imprint is publishing Miller's story next year — with Jones as co-author. “They wanted to get some ghostwriter in here, and I stopped them and said, 'No, Shelby's going to do this. She's telling the story,' ” Miller says.
Not every ringside right hand can write, but Jones is ready: “I'm literally going to talk to everyone he has ever known, to tell this story the way it should be told.”