Generally, the mammoth men who fit the size specifications of your average NFL defensive lineman aren't great candidates for fighting, let alone smashing into other behemoth monsters on the gridiron without a tremendous work ethic. Physical gifts and an excellent strength and conditioning program can bring out their true potential.
In mixed martial arts, particularly in the heavyweight division, the same rules apply. Unfortunately, due to the allure of the brighter spotlight and bigger wallets of other professional sports, the heavyweight talent pool is extremely thin. It's so thin, in fact, that it's common for a heavyweight bout to end in the first round unofficially because that's when most of us check out, wondering how an The Ultimate Fighter season ten replay made its way on the pay-per-view.
Poor conditioning and technical deficiencies seem to go hand-in-hand in many of the fights we've seen lately on the UFC's main cards. It's hard to blame the UFC however. There is still evidence that suggests the heaviest fighters are more appealing. One wouldn't find that opinion prevalent among the readers here, but it's a reality nonetheless.
As you might imagine, a thin talent pool makes the likelihood of a truly skilled athlete a rarity. Guys like Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos are hidden gems and we happen to live in an era in which both men are competing against one another for the UFC title. Both of those men are extreme exceptions to the rule.
Former NFL defensive lineman and current UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione, who will battle French Muay Thai striker Cheick Kongo on Saturday at UFC 137, is also an exception to the rule. The rule being that relevancy in the worldwide divisional ranks doesn't happen after only six fights.
Mitrione's former NFL player status and personality likely propelled him to a stint on the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. His bizarre, meathead tendencies caused a lot of fans to immediately discount his seriousness in the sport. After all, what is a washed up former defensive lineman going to do against real fighters?
Apparently beat them into the ground. After beating Marcus Jones by knockout at the reality show finale in December of 2009, Mitrione rattled off four straight wins, increasing the level of competition each time he stepped into the Octagon. Kimbo Slice, Joey Beltran, Tim Hague, and most recently Christian Morecraft all succumbed to Mitrione's improving skills, which have been honed under the tutelage of Duke Roufus at Roufusport in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately for fans, Mitrione is a surprise. Nobody thought he would be where he is today. He's an overwhelming exception to a rule that is becoming more and more dominant as the heavyweight talent pool wanes in quantity.
On Saturday night, one wouldn't be stepping over any lines in saying that Mitrione is one win away from relevancy. A dominant victory over a dangerous striker like Cheick Kongo would put Mitrione into a spotlight, despite the fact that many feel he's still a very green fighter. With only five fights to his name, who would believe he has the skills to challenge upper-echelon heavyweights? The real question is whether we should believe he does have those skills, or whether the division lacks talent. I think we may find out the latter is true long-term.