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Working with kids pays off for Miller

By JIM VARSALLONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


World Championship Wrestling star Ernest "The Cat" Miller is ready to speak . . . dance . . . direct.

Miller, a former three-time world karate champion, is very athletic, which helped him make a smooth transition from pro football and karate to pro wrestling. He is cocky, arrogant, funny, a slick dresser and has a gift for gab.

"In 1992, I was teaching karate at Joe Corley's American Karate School in Atlanta and training for a couple of world title fights," Miller recalled. "(future WCW President) Eric Bischoff has a son, Garrett, who was a student at the karate school. I didn't know what Eric did. He was vice president of WCW at the time.

"During the time I was practicing and working on some fancy kicks for the fight, the kids used to sit around and watch me. This one little blond-haired kid, who was Eric's son, approached me about showing him a kick. I said, 'Okay.' I showed him a kick. Then, for two weeks, that same little blond kid came back every day for some more." "Garrett told me one day, 'My dad is a karate expert, a black belt.' I said, 'Maybe I'll get to meet him one day.' One day Eric came in with him, . . . I'm going to be around today, do you mind if I work out with the class?"'

"Eric put his black belt on, and I still didn't know he was with WCW. We lined all our black belts on one side and everyone else on the other side who wanted to work out with the black belts. I was way on the far end. He started off with one black belt, and he really beat this black belt up. He beat up the next one and the next one and the next. He got down to me, and I said, 'Wow.'

"We started working out. He beat up some good black belts, but at that time, I was in the best shape. I was at the top. I like to joke around. I didn't try to overpower people or take advantage because I was bigger, stronger and faster. I decided to work with him. Whenever he threw a kick, I would flip out of the way. I was holding my legs up. He couldn't get away from me. I didn't go out full speed, but I wanted to give him a workout. He was very impressed with me that day.

"He said, 'Ernest, I don't know you, but you would be a great wrestler.' My dream was to be a world karate champion. So I said, 'Not right now.' So, he said, 'Don't you know, in karate, there is no money. In wrestling, you can make a lot of money.'

"I said, 'I need the money, but right now I have a dream.' My goal was to be a world karate champion and have a lot of kids around me who appreciate what I could do. I was teaching kids, giving back to the community. I didn't charge a lot of kids for lessons, and I could have. That also impressed Eric."

Then one day, Miller was working out at a gym in Atlanta and began talking to WCW stars Booker T. and Stevie Ray of Harlem Heat. They explained Bischoff's role with WCW.

"I went home and was thinking about it," Miller said.

Two weeks later, Miller attended an Ultimate Fighting Championships in Atlanta. Diamond Dallas Page, Glacier and Bischoff also were there.

"Eric said, 'Ernest, you need to see me because I can make you a very wealthy man.' I said, 'Okay, but I've got one more title to win,' which I did the following week (in 1996) during the Arnold Schwarzenegger Body Building Contest in Canton, Ohio."

Miller returned home with his third world karate title and quickly made an appointment with Bischoff at his WCW office.

"He said,'We just want you to be yourself -- a karate champion. In this business, you see the same thing over and over again. I don't mind taking a chance to show something totally different."

Three months later, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Miller debuted in WCW in 1997. Sonny Ono, a martial artist, assisted Miller. Glacier worked a program with Miller. That set the foundation for Miller's ride to stardom.

Miller -- who danced side by side with the Godfather of Soul James Brown during a WCW pay-per-view -- is one funny cat. His TV role as commissioner of WCW is hysterical, announcing the scripted matches with his own style and flair.

After graduating from Gordon High School in Decatur, Ga., Miller studied electrical engineering at Savannah State College where he was an All-America linebacker.

Miller helped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers win a Grey Cup in the Canadian Football League. He also had tryouts with 10 NFL teams including the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets and New England Patriots, but his first love was karate -- something he started at age 8.

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WCW's pay-per-view SuperBrawl Revenge is at 8 p.m. Sunday from Nashville's Municipal Auditorium. Match for Commissionership of WCW: The Cat with beautiful Ms. Jones battles Lance Storm with Team Canada.

Pro wrestling columnist Jim Varsallone can be reached at wrestling@tampabay.com.

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