MMA is a tough job any way you slice it. The physical aspect is grueling and takes a fast toll on the body. The expenses associated with training camps such as specialized diets, supplements, physician costs, equipment and more can break a bank account down to its barest fibers, often forcing fighters to take second jobs in order to make ends meet. The psychological aspect is perhaps the biggest hurdle an athlete can face. Issues of self-doubt, fear, and depression can become so serious as to impact professional performance, and for many, these issues can go unaddressed due to a variety of factors, most prominently financial instability.
The anxiety of not being able to get a fight can also be quite overwhelming, especially if fighting is a full-time job. With most fighters (especially the ones not named Donald Cerrone) only getting 3 fights a year, we are seeing more of them step up on short notice to cram in another fight, sometimes just two weeks after their last one. Reasons range from staying in the good graces of UFC brass to wanting another paycheck.
Matt Mitrione finds himself in the unfortunate situation of not having a fight lined up, despite his numerous public pleas across interviews and social media to secure one. The 3-month mark from his last fight is rapidly approaching, so for him, time is of the essence. In the UFC's own words, The Time Is Now.
In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, Matt discussed his quasi-beef with Andrei Arlovski via Twitter, his thoughts on the PED problems the UFC has been plagued with over the last few months, how the Reebok sponsor deal might affect him, how he feels about interim titles, his admiration of the Diaz brothers and more. Here's what he had to say:
Bloody Elbow: What was the issue with Andrei Arlovski?
Matt Mitrione: Arlovski is in the situation he's in right now because Bigfoot Silva said "yes" when he was Number 4 and Andrei was Number 14. It's really bad if he says "No" to me at Number 12 when he's ranked at Number 5 (Arlovski ended up getting booked to fight Travis Browne a few days ago).
Anyway, what set everything off was word had gotten back to me that the fight I was waiting on-and I've been trying to get a fight for a while now-the one they (the UFC) were waiting to get word back from, was Arlovski. Then I find out that this has been pretty much shelved forever because Arlovski said "No" a couple times.
Are you kidding me? This dude was retweeting me saying what a great fight it would be if we were to get the deal done, and when it comes down to it, he says no?
The Arlovski I respect is that game Arlovski, the vicious pit bull just letting it all fly. That's the Arlovski everyone wants to see. That's the guy I respect and want to fight. If he turned that down because I'm not ranked high enough, then he should sacrifice his ranking, because that's how he got to Number 5.
Bloody Elbow: What are your thoughts on the ranking system currently in place? Does it bother you that the UFC frequently overrides it, often choosing title contenders that aren't actually in the Number 1 spot?
Matt Mitrione: There's no sugar-coating this, but the rankings are rather arbitrary. We don't know much about this panel. How were they chosen? What credentials do they have to have to be on the panel? We have no clue about any of that.
That's very concerning to me, especially considering that our pay is soon going to be based off this system. What I know is that my money is directly correlated to who I fight that's ranked ahead of me. The higher my own ranking gets, the more I get paid.
I've got a sponsor that's paying me $30 grand a fight, and I'm gonna lose that sponsor. That's not good business, and there's nothing I can do about that. From what I'm being told, the new sponsorship deal with Reebok is going to be way less than the sponsor I'm gonna lose.
I understand Arlovski saying no in light of this, but at the same time, he got here because someone ranked higher than him said yes. He should pay it forward. Then he tweets that he's here to fight top contenders. Well, I am a top contender. My ranking might not show it, but I'm one of the best in the world, and my ability and athleticism show it.
There's one thing that's an absolute guarantee with me. I'm either going to win big or I'm going to lose big. There's no in-between for me, and you're gonna remember my fight. I'm fearless when it comes down to it, winning or losing. I'm not afraid to be successful and I'm not afraid of failing. Because of that, I go at it as hard as I can. Joe Silva came right out and told me why they have me as the opening fight on the main card and that's because I set the tempo for it. Even if you're not my fan, you watch my fights because I'm polarizing enough for people to tune in just to see me get smoked.
Bloody Elbow: Does it bother you that a same ranked strawweight will make the same sponsor pay you will, despite the weight class having seen less than a year of action within the UFC?
Matt Mitrione: Absolutely. What that did, is it took away my name value. So you're telling me that I'm gonna get the same sponsor money as the Number 12 ranked 45, 35, 25, and 15 pounders....Hell even the 55ers. Do we even know who the Number 12 ranked 55er is off the top of the head? Who's the Number 12 ranked 85er? Who knows? I've got 13 fights in the UFC. That should count for something.
I can't really bitch and complain, because we haven't been told a thing about it. We have no clue what's going to happen with this sponsor money system at all. I could be getting my panties in a bunch for absolutely no reason at all. I have no clue. They might turn around and say, ‘If you have this many fights in the UFC, you're guaranteed this amount of the sponsor money at this particular ranking.'
They could do all kinds of things. I have no clue, and I don't know if the Fertittas and Dana even know exactly how it's going to work. I would imagine that those details are being ironed out over the next couple months.
Bloody Elbow: You've had past dealings with Jon Jones' manager, Malki Kawa. Many have suggested that he is a bad influence on his fighters, and especially Jones. Would you agree with that?
Matt Mitrione: I don't think Malki's a good influence on anybody, including himself and anyone that's involved with him. I do have personal experience with him, but it was limited to a short window of time and it's been several years back. Maybe he's changed his ways, I don't know, but the Malki I knew back in the day...I wouldn't hesitate to step on him to avoid a mud puddle. I wouldn't hesitate one bit.
Bloody Elbow: What's your opinion on the PED situation in the UFC?
Matt Mitrione: It's been a rough few weeks, hasn't it? It's unfortunate, and these guys don't have a clue what they're possibly doing to themselves. The guy you're buying steroids from in the gym is the wrong guy to take advice from. Who knows what they might be giving you.
It's probably a fact of life in the sport unless they really throw down the gauntlet and say, ‘If you take PEDS and get caught, then you're out for two years. They should do random tests three times throughout your fight camp, and maybe have the fighter pay for one of the tests. If you're clean for all three tests, then you get your money back, but if you get busted, at any time during a camp for a contracted fight, you get punished. There wouldn't be an "out of competition" thing, and penalties should apply if you get caught from the minute the fight is made official. I don't know exactly, but there's definitely room for improvement.
Bloody Elbow: Do you feel that Nick Diaz should be punished as severely as a steroid user?
Matt Mitrione: Marijuana is not a PED. I think it's a relaxation device. There are so many fighters that are addicted to pain-killers, which can really spiral a life right out of control. If there's a "green" way to help athletes cope with their pain a little better, without the need for pills that get you all twisted up, then I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
It's pretty well documented that Nick has a substantial level of social anxiety, and that's the way he deals with it. I couldn't care less if my opponent burns down up until the week before we fight. Good for him. That's not a PED, so go for it. However, if you can blow cocaine through your whole, entire camp until 12 hours before, and not get in any trouble for it, that's a joke. That's a scam.
Bloody Elbow: Do you view cocaine as a PED?
Matt Mitrione: I don't know much about cocaine, but I have heard the rumors and stories about how hard certain people are partying, and that's bad. I do know that on a scale of 1- 10 of seriousness, cocaine is about an 8 and weed is probably a .5 to a 1. For weed to carry an exponentially larger punishment than cocaine...I can't even wrap my head around that.
I'm a big Diaz supporter. I love Nick and Nate. I love Gilbert and Jake...I love all those dudes, and I'm not a big fan of Jon Jones, so maybe I'm biased. Who knows?
Bloody Elbow: Most gyms have a "go to" guy that they get their Vitamin S from. In some places, it's a physician attached to a camp that provides it. Since you've traveled around to several gyms, have you observed this?
Matt Mitrione: Anywhere you go, whether it's an MMA gym, a BJJ studio or LA Fitness, there's always that guy somewhere around. There's always somebody selling something, but do you really want to take that risk? I know I don't. It's always the best and only choice to just steer clear of those guys. The ones that don't are the ones running into problems now.
Bloody Elbow: What are your thoughts on interim belts and Cain Velasquez's prolonged absence?
Matt Mitrione: When is the last time Cain fought? Do you even remember that far back? I know that sounds pretty tongue-in-cheek, but I'm not joking.
I can understand the need for an interim belt, but it really doesn't matter because Cain is going to come in and beat whoever has it anyway. Cain is the best fighter in the world, hands down, and he's got that mentality that he doesn't mind being miserable...as long as he makes you more miserable in a fight.
Go ahead, have your interim title. It doesn't matter. When Cain comes back, he'll unify them both and go back to being the best in the world.
Bloody Elbow: What would you like to see for the heavyweight division in 2015? Would you like more athletes signed so that more fights in your division can be made?
Matt Mitrione: To be honest, the only thing I'm concerned with are the 11 guys that are ranked ahead of me.
Bloody Elbow: If you could have dinner and conversation with anyone, past or present, in any walk of life, who would it be with?
Matt Mitrione: I'd have to say J. Edgar Hoover or Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Bloody Elbow: If you could have any fighter transplant to your camp as a permanent training partner, who would it be?
Bloody Elbow: What's Number 1 on your bucket list?
Matt Mitrione: It's a cheesy answer, but to spend more time with my babies. I travel a lot, so I'm generally in heaven when I get to spend time with my kids.
If you want a more traditional answer, maybe skydiving or climbing a mountain in Tibet.
Bloody Elbow: Final question, what's the last movie you saw?
Matt Mitrione: I just saw The Drop with James Gandolfini. It goes pretty hard. It's legit; very, very good.
You can follow Matt via his Twitter account, @MattMitrione