Is Matt Mitrione Ready to Challenge the Upper Echelon of the UFC's Heavyweight Division?

Matt Mitrione raises his hands in victory after defeating Christian Morecraft on the UFC on Versus 4 main card on Sunday evening. Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Trumped by the shocking come-from-behind knockout victory by Cheick Kongo and the upset decision win by Charlie Brenneman, Matt Mitrione put on his own impressive performance in the opening bout of the evening on the UFC on Versus 4 main card on Sunday night. The former New York Giant and Minnesota Viking defensive tackle laid waste to fellow prospect Christian Morecraft with crisp kickboxing and speedy footwork, downing the 24-year-old with a wicked combination in the second round of action that did not need a follow-up barrage to ensure victory. Morecraft was finished as he hit the canvas, and Mitrione, walking away with his hands held high, knew he had sapped the life from his opponent.

With five victories under the UFC banner and a personality that fans seem to be drawn toward, Mitrione is garnering interest from fans and media alike as a potential challenger to the upper-echelon of the UFC's heavyweight division. During the post-fight show on Versus, current UFC fighter and analyst Stephan Bonnar went so far as to say that Mitrione should fight former UFC champion Frank Mir next. A huge step in a direction that would suggest Mitrione is one of the better fighters in the division.

But let's not be so hasty to push a developing fighter into the deep waters without allowing him to continue developing his skills. Many fans would suggest the UFC should push him due to his age. At 32 years old, Mitrione doesn't have a lengthy shelf life, but neither does most of the division. It's a problem that has been spotlighted regularly by myself and other analysts, and it has been one of the most significant points made when we talk about the division being rather shallow.

That shouldn't be the focus here however. Since the division lacks a plethora of rising prospects and lower level talents hoping to break into the middle tier, should an impressive streak of wins turn on a light bulb and cause the UFC to be hasty in pushing a guy who may be able to draw eyes?

No. Mitrione dispatched of Christian Morecraft impressively. We can all agree there. But to suggest that Mitrione should leapfrog the perceived rankings and battle a top ten talent like Frank Mir within the next six months is absurd. Fighters like Travis Browne, Stefan Struve, Mike Russow, and even a guy like Roy Nelson, who would be at the top end of an opponent list, are better fights for him at this point in his career, many of those being winnable encounters for "Meathead".

Furthermore, we have yet to see Mitrione endangered on the ground. He has solid footwork, deceptive speed for his weight class, and honed kickboxing skills under the tutelage of Duke Roufus. He has become a surprisingly versatile fighter on the feet since The Ultimate Fighter. There is, however, a need for Mitrione to go through the paces of fighting against different styles. Perhaps a grappling whiz like Jon Olav Einemo might be an intriguing test for him in the future. It would surely create some interest from hardcore fans.

Matt Mitrione is a breath of fresh air in a division that has seen better days in terms of prospects. The demands on heavyweight talent are exhausting to say the least, and those demands cause a lot of incoming freshman problems. How many heavyweights can you name who have the gas tank to go three full rounds while also displaying the know-how in both the grappling and striking department? Most of those fighters are at the apex of the division. Let's not rush Matt Mitrione to his demise just yet. Give him all the opportunities to improve enough to give fans what they want... a better fighter who has the chance to win against better competition.

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