October 1, 2010

Matt MitrioneWhen Matt Mitrione exited the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, he was known more for his antics and attitude than his fighting ability.  Mitrione turned that opinion around after dispatching of fellow cast member Marcus Jones during the TUF 10 finale show, before bouncing Kimbo Slice from the UFC in his next fight.

Still carrying the nickname “Meathead” bestowed upon him by his coach on the show, Rashad Evans, Mitrione has worked hard to move past the performances he had back then, and is now established as a fan favorite in the UFC.

Fighting in his home state of Indiana for his last fight, Mitrione picked up “Fight of the Night” honors for his three-round affair against Joey Beltran, while the crowd chanted his nickname throughout the bout.  The experience was beyond positive for Mitrione, who by his own admission is still young in the game.

“I’m not trying to put the cart before the horse,” Mitrione told MMAWeekly Radio.  “I’d like to think that I’m reasonably humble as far as knowing how legitimate of a contender I am, or what I still have to develop into.”

Putting the microscope on his own skill set, the former Purdue football player is quick to notice his strengths, but more noticeably his weaknesses.  Those are the areas that he knows he has to improve upon before taking the next step towards a top contender in the heavyweight division.

“I think stand-up wise, I’m a pretty good fighter. I think as far as wrestling and as far as jiu-jitsu wise, I’m at the bottom end of the heavyweight division,” Mitrione said honestly.   “I think there’s a lot of things I need to develop on before I even dream about getting into, like I have a puncher’s chance against anybody, but if I was to get into a fight with Frank Mir and he took me down, I’m probably going to get broken.

“Granted, I’m working on my ground game and I think I have good defense, but he’s an upper echelon guy, and I need to make sure I develop at the pace that I need to develop at to make sure I can support my own mouth.”

As a former NFL player, Mitrione is a competitor at heart and that love of competition spurs him to get better in his MMA career as well.  He’s excited to challenge himself against the best in the world, but he’s also realistic as far as where he currently stands and what he needs to do to get better.

“I’d love to have the challenge, I’d love to see how well would I do against Cheick Kongo, or a Frank Mir, or whoever else, but at that same time I have to remember I just had my third pro fight,” Mitrione commented.   “It happened to be in the UFC, and it happened to be against a higher caliber opponent than Kimbo or Marcus Jones, but I’m not sure how Joey (Beltran) would do against Frank Mir either.  I need to remember that I’m still starting out.”

The toughest part for any top athlete or fighter is turning down a challenge when it’s presented.  Whether it’s Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, or any of the other top heavyweights in the UFC, Mitrione admits it would be tough to turn down a fight if the UFC came calling, no matter what level the opponent was at.

“If the UFC called me and said ‘hey we want to give you a top 10, top 12 guy,’ it would be very, very difficult for me to say no,” Mitrione said.

Following his win at UFC 119, reporters immediately started asking Mitrione about fighting those top opponents, pointing at Frank Mir as the other heavyweight sitting at the press conference.  Mitrione stays humble and knows that to get to the top, you have to beat the best, but to beat the best you have to be ready to face them.

Humility is something Mitrione has learned, and he’s thankful for every time someone mentions his name alongside the best in the heavyweight division.

“I use this word a little too much lately, but I’m flattered people even throw me in a sentence with those people,” said Mitrione.

Flattery aside, if Mitrione’s progression continues it’s going to be hard to deny “Meathead” a place among the rising stars in the heavyweight division.