Matt Mitrione is a man who absolutely loves his job. The undefeated UFC heavyweight and former NFL defensive lineman for the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings has found his calling in mixed martial arts. Mitrione has been working hard in preparation for his upcoming heavyweight tilt against Tim Hague, a man with four times as many wins as Mitrione has had professional fights. His bout will be the co-main event of UFC: Fight for the Troops 2 this Saturday and after speaking with CageCraze.com in this exclusive interview, it's obvious "Meathead" has done his homework.
Matt may have spent much of his life playing football, but he's been interested in mixed martial arts since he was very young:
"I was always fascinated with MMA, even back in the day. There was a video chain called Family Video and when I was a little kid, I might be telling on myself here but I think the statute of limitations has expired. But I went and rented a video of like UFC 4 or something like that and I never returned it. I've always been into it.
When I was getting finished up with the NFL, I told Purdue coach Tom Erikson that I was interested in fighting and he was like "oh yeah?" so we met up at a wrestling practice and he completely kicked my ass. He threw me everywhere, it was embarrassing. As a result, I found out what I really needed to work on which was my wrestling and everything else. From coach Erikson, my wrestling has gotten pretty good. I downplay it a lot with a lot of self deprecating humor but I'm pretty tough in a lot of aspects, I'm a handful."
Mitrione knows that he's been given a tremendous opportunity, having spent his entire career in the UFC and he feels it's because of how quickly he's improved:
"I consider myself a pretty good learner. I take things up pretty quick. I've been training here with Duke Rufus for two years now. People tell me I'm a different fighter every time I come out, well I sure as hell should be. It's not like I'm Frank Mir where you've had 20 something fights and amateur fights before that. I'm growing, I'm developing, I'm learning, so I should always be changing."
If there's one thing you'll notice about Matt it's that big sheepish grin he has on his face when he's fighting. He had plenty to say about why he's always so happy to be in the octagon:
"I could have to wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning, every morning, put on suit and tie, shave. But now if I don't want to, I don't comb my hair, I don't take a shower. I haven't shaved for probably seven weeks. I am a straight homeless bum right now and I love it. I could have to wake up, shave, brush my teeth, put on a suit and tie and go to a Monday morning sales meeting watching some douchebag that no one respects blabber on about conning people into buying something they probably don't need in the first place. Come home stressed out, kick your dog, be angry the rest of the night, blah blah blah.
That's not my life and I'm happy as hell about it. So the fact that I get to go out and live my dream, even if I get my ass kicked, it's my opportunity, my employment and life is good."
While Matt may be a ray of sunshine in the cage, he's had to fight to change the "bad boy" tag he earned when he was on the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
"I played that role, I filled that role very well in my opinion. I did it to myself. Now did the editing and shooting on the show help out? Certainly it did, but it was my actions that caused that. I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't. I knew what I was doing when I was there. Was it hard? Not really for me, but I felt really bad for my family like my father and my brother to a certain extent. Not many of my wife's friends watch The Ultimate Fighter so they wouldn't care too much about it, plus they knew me already ahead of time so they were probably thinking "Oh, Matt's just acting stupid right now."
But for people that didn't know me, my father's friends, they'd come up to him and say "what in the hell is your child doing?" so that was kinda stressful."
With his stint on The Ultimate Fighter and the fact that every one of his career fights have been televised either on Spike or pay per view, Matt is starting to have to deal with becoming a public figure:
"It's a trip, it's interesting that you go do different places, restaurants in your hometown, different cities especially in Vegas. One day we were driving down the street at a flea market and these people drive past us, recognized me driving, freaked out, stopped, turned around, followed us, came up to me at the intersection and asked for my autograph. I was in the passenger seat, it was nuts! It's just flattering that anyone wants to hear anything that I have to say or finds me interesting."
On preparing for his opponent Tim Hague's submission game:
"Chris (Lytle) is my mentor, so I've always worked with Chris. That dude who is a legend in my mind and one of the toughest people walking around on the planet at 190 lbs or less. I've trained with Dustin Dennis down at Pablo Papovich's place. I've trained with Cyborg Abreau down at his place and Eddie Bravo at his place out in LA. There's been a handful of joints that I've had a place to train and really work on all kinds of different strategies with different coaches. I'm pretty fortunate with the fact that I'm athletic and people are willing to work with me."
Being a former member of the NFL, Matt is no stranger to film study. When reading some previous interviews, I noticed he'd mentioned he'd watched his opponent Tim Hague get kicked in the head "a million times" and that he had a strong chin despite the 7 second Duffee knockout. I asked him how much tape he'd watched of Hague:
"I've watched tons. I feel extremely ready for this fight, I wish we were fighting today. I told my training partners and my guys that I'm not watching film anymore, I'm done watching film. At this point, I've watched so much film of Tim Hague that I think I know what color socks his mom's wearing today. I know everything about Tim Hague.
You have to [study your opponent]. It's not so much about what they do, it's my fight. It's always been my show. I'm selfish, it's always been about me. I understand that, but I do need to know what to expect from my opponent. I know when he gets frustrated, when he's happy, when he's confident, what his shot looks like, what his single looks like, how persistent he is. That's stuff I need to know because that does indeed affect my show."
If there was anyone to ask about making the transition from NFL to MMA, it was Matt. He had a very interesting response when asked if he thought there was going to be a new wave of football players hopping over the fence to MMA as the sport continues to grow and salaries rise.
"I absolutely do. I don't see why they wouldn't. There's a couple things. A lot of times, people can't take a punch, for example: Marcus Jones. It was just a matter of time until I knocked him out, so, can you take a punch? Can you handle 4 million people watching you get your ass kicked? You know if you get your ass kicked, it'll end up on youtube and there will be 12 million people watching that. So now there's 16 million people watching you get kicked in the face, fold up like a pretzel, bleeding everywhere and acting like your grandmother. So if you're cool with that and you think you can handle it, then come on down, bring it. I think a lot of football guys would be really good at fighting."
Matt would like to thank his sponsors as well:
"I'm pretty fortunate that there are a couple sponsors that want me to say their name out my mouth, that's awesome. Microtech, the CEO of Microtech was actually stationed at Fort Hood where we're fighting so that's a cool tie-in. Hayabusa will be on my shorts. Fahrenheit Nutrition and also MTX. It's looking like I'm gonna be an MTX guy so I've got no complaints. I'm happy that anyone wants to tie their name or be associated with me."
Who ya got in this fight?
Matt Mitrione (17 votes)
Tim Hague (1 vote)
18 total votes