When former Purdue University football star Matt Mitrione did his stint on the UFC's hit reality show "The Ultimate Fighter", it was every bit his intention to keep both viewers and his housemates guessing. Mitrione quickly became the season's outcast as he drifted in and out of social interaction, often times leaving fellow cast members stumped by his quirky sense of humor and questionable motives. Now with three fights and three victories under his belt in the most successful organization in mixed martial arts, Mitrione has pushed the head games aside and has put the fight business front and center.
In fact, Mitrione wasted little time in getting down to it as he stopped housemate Marcus Jones via second round knockout in their bout at the season 10 finale. Next up was the enigma known as Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson. The two heavyweights squared off at UFC 113 this past May. In the pre-fight build up, the backyard brawler's menace was nullified by Mitrione's off-kilter personality and, when the bout got under way, Mitrione proved durable as he weathered the early storm. The second round would lead to Slice's undoing as Mitrione worked leg kicks and used pressure to break Kimbo's spirit. In the process of recording his second consecutive stoppage victory, Mitrione assisted in gave Kimbo his walking papers from the UFC.
After another impressive showing the UFC rewarded Mitrione by putting him on the card for the organization's inaugural visit to Indianapolis for UFC 119, the city he now calls home. Matched up with Joey Beltran in the card's highlighted bout for the aired preliminaries on Spike TV, Mitrione rode the crowd's chants of "Meathead" to a clean sweep unanimous decision victory. After a strong start to his career, Mitrione has been tapped to face Canadian Tim Hague at UFC Fight for the Troops 2 and he will be looking to use his momentum to topple the MMA veteran. On a cold winter's day in the "Circle City" I caught up with Mitrione and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he talked about his upcoming bout with Hague, how trash talk motivates him, and what it was like to fight in front of a capacity crowd who showered him with chants of "Meathead".
"To be honest with you...I'm really spoiled," Mitrione began. "My mentor is Chris Lytle and first of all he is a phenomenal human being. Chris is a great fighter and without a doubt one of the toughest human beings on the planet that walks around at less than 190 lbs. I would put my money on Chris over anybody at anytime. I know some may give him trouble but I love Chris Lytle and that dude is so damn tough. He has fought his entire professional career in combat sports, over 80 fights, and he never had the chance to fight in front of his hometown crowd. Here I get to do it in only my third outing and it was amazing. Fighting in front of 20,000 people in my hometown was a phenomenal experience. I got rushed into the cage, didn't get to have my entrance song but when the lights came on we were fighting. Ten seconds in I threw a head kick and the crowd erupted. Then when I would get taken down or put up against the fence and I would hear them chanting "Meathead! Meathead!" The crowed was so raucous and supportive that it was definitely one of the best moments of my life. It had to be demoralizing for Joey after he would hit me with a good punch and you could literally hear crickets because nobody was saying a damn thing, but as soon as I grazed his face or stuck him a little bit the crowd would go wild. It was a beautiful feeling, a great environment and it has meant something special to me to know that the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana have embraced me like they have."
In the pre-fight build up to the bout between Mitrione and Beltran both fighters, for the most part, avoided jumping through the hoops of hype and trash talk. Until a week before the fight when Beltran labeled Matt Mitrione as "easy money" and the comment wiped the smile from Mitrione's face as he prepared to prove Beltran wrong.
"For anybody to ever call me easy money is a really stupid comment," Mitrione declared. "There is a very good chance that you have never seen anyone as athletic as I am, that punches the way I do or has the range that I posses. So that is a very, very stupid comment. Even in fights where I would be out-skilled I will always have a punchers chance. Quite literally I could turn anyone's chin in a moment and the fight would be over. To say something stupid like that blew my mind. It motivated me and I'm a relentless self-motivator so I don't need outside stimulus to get me going. The funny thing is that when he made that comment I was still being very cool to him. After that I decided that he was going to see "grown-ass man strikes". Granted, I didn't knock him out but after the fight Joey told me that from the first punch of the second until he heard his coaches yell there was one minute left in the fight, he didn't remember a damn thing. So for seven minutes Joey fought on autopilot. That's "grown-ass man strikes". Joey has a great chin for sure but that dude doesn't remember a round a half? That's what I'm talking about. I'm going out there to put hands on you, make your shit swell up and get after it. It's kind of what Pat Barry said bout not hitting hard but hitting scary and that is frightening to me that someone could be in a fight for seven full minutes and not remember anything."
The victory in Indianapolis not only earned Mitrione his third consecutive win inside of the octagon but the performance earned both men "Fight of the Night" honors. When the time came for Mitrione to return to action the UFC came to call with his next opponent in the form of the 6'4 Canadian Tim Hague.
"I'm very happy how things have progressed," Mitrione replied when asked about his training for Hague. "I was expecting a little bit more work with Pat Barry. Our schedules were off and we weren't able to match up as much as I would have liked. As far training otherwise I was able to go down to Miami and train with a guy named Dustin Dennis who also goes by Dustin "Clean". I was also able to get a lot of work in with Rhadi Ferguson down there. Training has been good though. I've worked on my stand up game and put in a tremendous amount of time working on my wrestling. I'm happy with where I am and I feel confident that I am going to go out there and put on a damn good show."
Mitrione continued, "My ground game is truly, honestly unknown. Nobody knows about my scrambling ability or my takedowns. Also my takedown defense, top control, and range from the bottom are things that no one has been able to see yet. When I look at the matchup with Timmy (Hague) I think my power and positioning are going to be strengths. Obviously anybody who has ever seen me fight before knows that two of the things I bring into any fight will be my chin and my hands...and to honest where my hands go my feet follow most of the time. My stand up is dangerous. I'm pretty athletic and fleet of foot. If you are planning on getting me to the ground you are going to be chasing me around quite a bit to get there. Those are some things I bring to the table plus I'm a puncher who doesn't mind becoming a counter-puncher if I need to be so I feel comfortable in that situation. As far as what Tim Hague brings to the table...I think he is a much better fighter than what his UFC record shows. Granted he is 1-3 and people have questioned why the UFC has brought him back but the dude's a tough ass kid. He's had a couple of bad outings but I personally believe he won that Chris Tuchscherer fight. I think Joey beat him but he didn't do any damage to him. Tim's nose got bloodied up but he was able to walk through all of Joey's punches and Tim didn't even get a camp in for that fight. I think he's a tough ass kid. He's got decent wrestling and jiu-jitsu. His chin is good but I think that Todd Duffee fight was a one off. Everybody will have that one off in their career but Hague is judged on his bout against Duffee and I think he is better than what people think. It's actually a good thing for Tim because if people underestimate him and think his chin is really how it looked against Duffee, then they are going to be in for a rude awakening. I respect him. He's a good fighter and he beat the brakes off of Travis Wiuff so he has proved that he can bring things to a halt with a big punch."
Six months ago UFC President Dana White was declaring the UFC heavyweight division had entered a "golden age" and cited the weight class was more stacked than it had ever been before. Fast forward to the present and with mystery status of Brock Lesnar, Carwin recovering from injury and Roy Nelson battling through a year old contract fiasco...the heavyweight division is in limbo. When the news broke that champion Cain Velasquez would be sidelined for at least six months with a shoulder injury the picture became more grim and desolate. There are no high profile heavyweight bouts scheduled over the next few pay per views and that leaves the door wide open for an up and coming fighter like Mitrione.
"I think I just might bring a little something different to the heavyweight division," Mitrione suggested. "I throw a wrench in the plans so to speak for anyone that I face because I fight south, I'm athletic and I'm pretty aggressive. Assuming that I beat Tim because I believe that I will...I'm not sure where that puts me. I'm not even trying to be ambiguous about it but I always remind myself to never put the cart in front of the horse. This is going to be my fourth professional fight and I've only been training for two years. There is a huge amount that I still need to learn and I'm looking forward to it. My progressions, timing, patience and kicks are elements that I'm emphasizing when training and I'm getting better everyday. I don't believe I'm at the point where I can say that I want to fight Frank Mir or anyone else but after I show them this development then the doors will open to those bigger fights. Personally I feel that Tim Hague is a great opponent right now and I'm coming out to fight athletically and explosive. When this is over I'll let the fans, Mr. Silva and Mr. White decide where I'm at."
As the sport of MMA continues to boom, fighter images will become more important than ever before. As endorsement deals have started to unfold and rolls in smaller action films unfolding by the dozens a fighter's presentation can make the difference between recognition and being reshuffled into the deck. Where some fighters attempt to let the brash bravado fly, Mitrione is never found without his smile and sense of humor on display.
"My outlook and viewpoint on life is that it doesn't matter what "it" is because everything is temporary," Mitrione answered when asked about his off-kilter personality. "I understand there is a good chance of this career ending but I love what I do without question. My job today for instance, is to sit in a hot tub and go swim. That is my morning workout and that is beautiful. There are people who lace up the boots or put on the suit and tie, have to listen to some douche bag boss who has no idea what he's talking about who got promoted because he kisses ass all day long, tell them what to do and who to call. People who are making cold calls and all that bullshit for a third of the money I make. How in the hell could I ever not love what I do? How could I not ever be happy about it? Punching Kimbo in the face, leg kicking him until he wanted to quit, punching Joey Beltran or even getting punched by Joey Beltran...I will do that everyday of the week. I don't care if it was Frank Mir breaking my arm like he did to Tim Sylvia. I'll still be happy because it was a damn good opportunity I had in my life. I would still sit back and talk about what crazy shit that was. I am an appreciate guy and I love the life I have been given. Whether it is by God, faith or from hard work, I love it and I'm grateful for it."
Staying on the topic of personality it was Mitrione's time as a cast member on the UFC's hit reality program "The Ultimate Fighter" that allowed fans to see the quirky side of the fighter Rashad Evans affectionately labeled "Meathead". In the aftermath of the show Mitrione has gone on to prove he is far more stable than originally assumed. In my time talking to other fighters who shared the house with Mitrione during the 10th season they have been quick to cite a major aspect left out by the UFC cameras. While sharp editing made it appear that Kimbo Slice was originally the man no one wanted to fight, as it turns out it was Mitrione's first opponent in the house, Scott Junk, who no one wanted to tangle with.
"There was a guy on the show who they approached and told they were thinking about matching him up with Scott Junk first and he turned it down because didn't want that type of a fight first so he actually turned that fight down," Mitrione answered. "He was given a different fight that he won and I'm not sure how much of that was shown on the air but it is true that people didn't want to fight Junk. People thought Junk was going to come in there and just wreck shop. They knew he was a K-1 guy, with good experience then you put that with the fact that he punches really hard and has a great chin. I find it humorous that there were so many people who really believe I was scared to fight Marcus. These are people who had never seen me fight and since this was what they believed I caught all this shit. Fighting Scott Junk, as everyone knows now, was a perfect fight for me. There was no chance of that fight going to the ground which was perfect because at that time I had zero ground game. So once he threw me under the bus it was all I could do to campaign to fight Scott Junk and it worked out. I made a lot of rookie mistakes. I gassed out. It was the first real organized fight of my life and as I learned a lot. I found out that if you fight angry you fight stupid. You throw your punches way too hard and it is just a rookie mistake. Pat Barry taught me that if I kill you with a Desert Eagle or I kill you with a .22, you will still be dead. It doesn't matter how dead you are...you're still dead. That was a great lesson for me to learn and so I tried to kill Scott Junk with my Desert Eagle for the entire fight. That is why for three minutes I looked like a pro in there but for the other seven minutes I looked like an asshole. As far as fighting goes...now I know I can use my .22 and I can do quite a bit of damage with it and when the time comes where I need to, I can let the big guns fly."
After a standout career at the University of Purdue in Lafayette Indiana, Mitrione was selected to play in the NFL. After a short career playing football Mitrione decided to take his chances at becoming a professional fighter. Now that he is fighting for the UFC he is in the unique position of seeing both sports from the inside and with the two entities in constant comparison, Mitrione is one of the few who can truly gauge both the progress and the major differences between the two.
"As far as fans are concerned the two sports are the same," Mitrione answered when asked about similarities and differences between the UFC and NFL. "MMA might have a bit more of a hardcore fan base but when it comes to overall passion I would definitely say the two sports are even in that regard. NFL fans love their sport. MMA fans love their sport as well but they live and breathe fighting. It doesn't matter if it is UFC, K-1, Dream or whatever the hell it is...people freak out about it. Look at the Duffee vs. Overeem fight. People are chomping at the bit to see how Duffee does in this fight. People cannot wait to see Brandon Vera and Thiago Silva go at it. I love it and I love that there are so many different organizations that are putting on so many good fights. Holy shit dude I can't wait to see what happens myself so I would say the fans in both sports are similar."
Mitrione continued, "As far as accessibility MMA blows away the NFL. A lot of fighters do not need personal security or seven or eight other fighters going out with them in the same group. It's funny because even with my limited success and thus far short time into the sport of MMA, I'm much more recognized now than I was in the NFL. Granted, sometimes you get that one douche bag or bothers you a bit, stands too close to you or who spends a great deal of time telling you about your fights but most of the people are super cool. More times than not the fans come up and ask what's going on with your career or tell you how great it is to meet you and that you are fun to watch. You buy them a drink and they buy you a drink. You take a couple of pictures, sign the occasional boob and man you're golden."
When Matt Mitrione steps into the cage to face Tim Hague at UFC Fight for the Troops 2 it will be only his fourth professional fight. Throughout his first three performances Mitrione has shown a gained improvement in all aspects of his game but the Indianapolis resident is crystal clear there is much work to be done if he ever plans on reaching the top.
"I want to improve everything," Mitrione stated firmly. "I have been fortunate enough to develop a relationship with Randy Couture and we have done some work together. During our time he brought up the point that I am a stand up fighter but throughout the workout I had not attempted to get back to my feet once. It caught me off guard a bit because I hadn't really thought about it. Then he stressed that I needed to use my "bill payers", my hands and feet, and to get back up and use them. He told me to stop trying to be so patient and to stop trying to get the submission. He reminded me cheetahs don't change their spots and it was really an "oh shit" moment for me. Ever since then I have really changed my approach to how I train. All I do is work off my back and I'm glad I spend so much time doing that but now it's time to focus on something different. I need to get back to my feet and use my "bill payers". I need to be aggressive and let that shit fly."
Mitrione continued, "When I close space make sure I close it down in dangerous fashion. Whether you win or lose when I get done with you there is a trip to the hospital coming and you're getting stitches. Those are the things I have been focusing on and to really get back to who I am, I need to always be able to see the forest from the trees so to speak. I know I'm a stand up fighter. I know that is where I am the most dangerous. I know that I can make up distance very well and that my hands can end the fight. I'm not black belt and I don't even own a gi so I need to stop trying so hard in that aspect. If I get something on the ground then that's cool but I need to protect myself, get back up, and start punching people in the face again. So that is my main focus and honestly during the third round of the Beltran fight was the first time I had ever seen myself fight like I should be fighting. I had a lot of bounce, athleticism, and I was landing pot shots mixed in with a couple of big ones. To be honest with you there are going to be some exciting things coming."
With the interview coming to a close Mitrione wanted to use the final moments to acknowledge the people who have given him the power to succeed. Despite the natural athletic gifts he possesses, to become a successful competitor in the sport's largest organization it takes dedication, talent and sacrifice.
"I always want to thank the fans," Mitrione concluded. "There is also a sponsor called The Boot Campaign and if you buy boots through this website, it doesn't matter what kind, they will make a donation to military veterans. They give out shoes and boots and then to the men and women who are currently serving in the military, they donate to them as well. They are also involved with giving service men and women clothing as well so I am happy to be associated with The Boot Campaign. I'm glad they are doing something for the soldiers. Getting back to the fans I really can't thank them enough. They give me such an opportunity to really learn who I am as a person, father, parent and fighter. There is a great amount of curiosity to know more about the person than just how they see in the cage. I think that is beyond cool and that is another part of what makes the UFC and the fans so great because there is a genuine interest to see if the person they see inside of the cage is cool or if they are a douche bag."