Where Are They Now?: Ernest "The Cat" Miller
It’s often said that the best ring personas are an extension of the actual person. That was certainly the case with Ernest “The Cat” Miller — the braggadocios WCW star who danced with James Brown and begged somebody to call his mama. WWEClassics.com caught up with the martial arts expert recently and, just like the character he portrayed in WCW and WWE rings, “The Cat” was as confident as ever.
“A 50-year-old man beat everybody,” Miller said of his recent victory at a karate tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I could probably beat some of these young guys, but I let them have their day.”
Miller may be boastful, but beneath the brash exterior is a humble man who’s grateful for the opportunities he’s been given. Life wasn’t always great for “The Cat.” Long before he ever stole the show for WCW or acted in an Oscar-nominated movie, he was victimized by neighborhood bullies.
“I was a big kid for my age,” he explained. “I was a target to those older kids, because they got to pick on someone bigger than them.”
A friend at school told him about a karate class he was taking at a local park. That piqued Miller’s interest and he got his father to take him to check it out.
“I didn’t miss a day [after that],” “The Cat” said, “even if I had to walk.”
Miller earned his first black belt when he was 11 years old. Not too long after, he was travelling all over the southeastern United States, competing in tournaments with 14 other students and his instructor. He won his first of many trophies in 1975, at a tournament called The Battle of Atlanta.
He left the karate world during college, and following that, pursued a football career. After five years of going to training camps with teams like the New York Jets and New England Patriots, Miller decided to go back to his first love, karate. He got in touch with Joe Corley, the promoter of the first tournament he won, who operated a group of successful schools in the Atlanta area. Corley hired “The Cat” as an instructor. The new job inspired Miller.
“Being an instructor is a great gift,” Miller said. “I got to train and teach people the things I knew, and I love working with kids.”
“The Cat” loved passing on his karate knowledge so much that he would stay after class and work with any kids who wanted extra training. Though his list of students includes R&B superstar Usher, one child in particular ended up leading Miller down a career path he never would have expected to go.
“I had this little blond-haired, pretty boy kid,” Miller recalled. “He would stay after class every day and I’d work with him on different techniques. He told me his dad was a black belt, too.”
“The Cat” met the boy’s father during an open sparring session. The jet-black-haired man walked into the dojo and put a beating on some of the other instructors.
“He was kicking ass,” Miller said. “I was working with the kids, but I’m thinking I’m going to have to show the guy the buck stops here.”
Dear old dad got a taste of his own medicine from Miller. The karate champion quickly humbled him before discovering that the man was Eric Bischoff. Fortunately, the WCW President was impressed by “The Cat.”
“He said, ‘I’ve never been outmatched like I was with you,’” Miller said. “Then he told me I had charisma and a good look and said, ‘I could make you a very wealthy man.’”
Bischoff sold Miller on joining the WCW roster. After training in the infamous WCW Power Plant, Miller made his WCW debut at Slamboree 1997, kicking his way into the middle of the martial arts rivalry between Glacier and the wicked duo of Mortis & Wrath. Miller jumped into the ring and floored the two villains with a flurry of kicks that made fans take immediate attention.
“I just went kicking crazy,” Miller said. “The crowd was going crazy.”
“The Cat” hung around WCW for a while, but playing the karate fighting good guy didn’t stick with the fans. A little bit of good-natured ribbing in the locker room, though, led to Miller becoming a star.
“Booker T, Kevin Nash, all these guys were saying karate was fake, just messing around,” Miller said. “But I was giving it right back to them."
“Disco Inferno came up to me and said, ‘If you do that on TV, you’d be huge. You just burned the whole locker room!’ “
Disco told WCW executives about Miller’s trash-talking, so they gave “The Cat” the microphone and let him loose. He started instigating fans, daring them to step in the ring with him.
“When I said ‘Shut up,’ they got louder. I said ‘Sit down,’ they stood up. I had them in the palm of my hand,” he said.
When he was done, he’d bellow, “Somebody call my mama!” Though today’s fans may know the phrase from Brodus Clay’s catchy theme music, “The Cat” is quick to remind everyone that he came up with the quip.
Miller’s smack talk — as well as his victories in the ring — were soon punctuated by “The Cat” slipping on a pair of bright red shoes and busting a few moves out of James Brown’s playbook.
“I used to watch him all day long,” Miller said of his idol. “When I was 3 years old, my mother used to call me out of bed when company was over. She asked me to dance and I’d start slipping around, doing my James Brown dance.”
Little did “The Cat” know that The Godfather of Soul was watching him in approval. Brown reached out to WCW officials to say he liked what Miller was doing. He even endorsed Miller on pay-per-view, dancing with him in the ring at SuperBrawl 2000.
“I damn near cried in the ring,” Miller said of dancing with “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business."
“We didn’t come up with anything, there was just this connection, two soul brothers in there dancing,” he added.
If boogying with one of his childhood idols wasn’t enough, Miller was surprised by a gesture Brown made during their dance party.
“I hit my knees and the next thing you know, James grabbed the cape from one of his guys,” Miller explained. “He shook it out, put it on my back and walked me out.”
It was the high point of a moment Miller couldn’t have imagined would ever happen.
“It was like a dream come true,” he said. “I don’t care if I ever made a dime in wrestling. That was enough payoff for me. Not just to dance with him, but for him to put that cape on me.”
Miller remained a popular star in WCW right up until the day it closed, even serving as the company’s commissioner. He was not picked up by WWE in March 2001, which gave him plenty of time to spend with his kids.
“The Cat” enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad for close to two years, before getting a call from WWE executive John Laurinaitis.
“He said I should come up there and meet with Mr. McMahon,” Miller said.
“The Cat” soon joined WWE as an announcer on Velocity, calling the high-octane action on the Saturday night show. Still, Miller had the itch to get back in the ring.
“It’s just like any old athlete,” he explained. “You sit and talk about it, but you feel you’ve still got something in the tank. They gave me the opportunity to see if there was something left in the tank.”
Miller returned to action in late 2003, picking up where he left off in WCW, looking to dance and have a good time. The party didn’t last long for “The Cat.” After a brief appearance in the 2004 Royal Rumble Match and a rivalry with Tajiri on SmackDown, he was released from the company.
“The way it is with WWE, if you move from one spot, you can’t go back,” Miller said. “I thought it was going to be easier than it was. It wasn’t WCW.”
Though many would have been down after being let go, Miller reflected on his time with WWE and found plenty of lessons he could apply to his life outside of the ring.
“I learned the business side of things,” he explained. “Believe it or not, it helps me run the business I’m in. Anything I want to do, I know how to approach it now.”
Today, Miller has plenty on his plate to keep him busy. “The Cat” took up acting shortly after leaving WWE and landed the gig of a lifetime, portraying The Ayatollah — the Iron Sheik-like nemesis of Randy “The Ram” Robinson — in “The Wrestler.”
“When I was a little boy, I never thought that one day I’d be in an Oscar-nominated movie,” Miller said. “It was so fun.”
“The Cat” still gets scripts sent his way and will soon be appearing in “Superfast,” a film spoofing the “Fast and the Furious” series.
He also enjoys mud runs, a hobby he picked up through a friend, Greg Greenbaum. Miller began training Greenbaum, a stage IV colon cancer survivor, for a run, then took part in one at his friend’s behest.
“I ran my first one and that got me hooked,” The Cat said. “That’s what got me into the shape I’m in now.”
Though you can catch Miller on the silver screen or at a Tough Mudder, karate is still his main passion.
“The Cat” got back into competitive karate and continued his winning ways. About two months ago, he won the 40-and-over bracket at The Battle of Atlanta — the same tournament he won his first trophy at in 1975. And just like his days in the ring, a little bit of the trash-talking comes out when someone doubts Miller.
“This promoter told me to come to his tournament and bring my A-game, that he had some guys over 40 who will beat me, maybe some over 50,” he said. “I said, ‘There’s not a man alive 50 years or older who can beat me at anything. I’m coming!’”
More than anything, though, Miller loves the teaching opportunities that karate gives him. He continues to pass on his deep knowledge of martial arts to kids, educating them about discipline and self-defense.
“I see the payoff when they grow up and they’re productive citizens,” he said. “All the money in the world couldn’t get me out of martial arts. It gives me something to give back.”