The only Heavyweight fight on the UFC on Fuel TV 9: Mousasi vs. Latifi card features a couple of fighters who are on the bubble. It's a do-or-die scrap that doesn't promise much narrative in the grand scheme of things, but for Mitrione, a chance to see of he has maintained the slow, but significant strides he's made following his TUF stint.
Matt Mitrione (5-2) vs. Phil De Fries (9-2-1) Heavyweight
When Mitrione began his Heavyweight career, the promise began with an unlikely background: he was a former NFL player. And that was pretty much the extent of it. It counted as promise despite being somewhere between SAFTA fighting systems and tackle frisbee on the MMA experience scale.
Of course, the point of Mitrione's background was that he was signaling what MMA could really be; a place for the world's greatest athletes. We've had MMA athletes, but never an athlete in MMA. And so what a surprise when Mitrione turned out to be pretty decent.
'Pretty decent' is not a ringing endorsement for Mitrione, but his record betrays where he could with a little more experience, direction, and improvement. Part of the problem with him is that he has 7 career fights, not all that distanced from playing football as his martial arts background, and he's been thrown in against two of the world's better heavyweights in Cheick Kongo, and Roy Nelson. No matter how talented you are, that's a tough schedule for your first seven.
For that reason, I like this fight. It's the sort of bout a guy like Mitrione should have been getting this whole time. Instead the UFC is treating Matt like Japan treated Kazuyuki Miyata; "way to hit the ball off the tee there slugger, now stand across that old Dominican dude named Pedro and try it again". MMA likes to eat its young, but Mitrione (despite being 34) looks capable of handling the pressure.
What both men can do: I'll get to the breakdown of De Fries in a second, because that's all I'll need, but one of the positive aspects of Mitrione's game is his ability to string offense together. I know that sounds vague, but he displays real maturity when it comes to offense. As in, he's got good instincts, doesn't throw just one punch at a time, and on the ground doesn't stop moving his hips (which are very mobile for a guy his size).
A lot of guys slow down when their opponent shells up and goes into defensive mode, but Mitrione really has a breezy style to the way he strings combinations together. Good leg kicks, a quick-on-the-draw right hand, and a usually sturdy chin (Nelson fight notwithstanding) make Mitrione the heavy favorite in this fight.
Now...about Phil De Fries. As everyone knows, Mitrione will win this fight because De Fries just isn't that good, but let's be fair. He's still a heavyweight with a good record. And more importantly, that record has come from a strong grappling pedigree. He's very mobile on the ground for a big guy, and what's more impressive is that he's mobile in top control, and on the bottom where he can sometimes do a nice Lil Nog impression from half guard.
What both men can't do: Unfortunately that's where it ends. He's not a good wrestler, and simply isn't durable on the feet. While it doesn't surprise us to see pre-Overeem Duffee (or was it pre-Russow hammerfist?) destroy him in a seconds as happened at UFC 155, watching Stipe Miocic get him out there so quickly certainly was. Miocic, despite possessing some decent raw power, is normally a slow starter.
Mitrione's problem is similar in that his defense is questionable. For one, he hangs his hands too low. While he never reaches the ridiculous heights (depths?) of Muhammed Lawal's silly "Cuban boxing" thing, he still leaves himself wide open. If De Fries has a chance at all, it'll be here...where he's suddenly given the power of grayskull in his right hand while landing a punch. Even in a world where pigs routinely fly, breakdance, and direct traffic...I still wouldn't bet on it.
Prediction: Matt Mitrione by first round TKO.