Realistically, Matt Mitrione wants another shot at Bellator heavyweight champ Ryan Bader if he wins at Bellator 225. But ideally, Mitrione just wants Bader to go back down to 205 pounds to free up the top of the division for himself.
“If [Bader] is good enough and capable of defending both titles, then good for him,” Mitrione told Bloody Elbow. “But professionally speaking, I sure as hell want him to go back down to light heavyweight, because I don’t want him at heavyweight.
“He banged on my face for 15 minutes, and it’s not fun. It’s not fun at all. I’d rather see him go back down. But he’s a professional, and he’s really good at what he does. If he wants to stay up there and take another shot at defending his title, all the power to him.”
Mitrione fought Bader last year in the semifinals of the Bellator heavyweight grand prix. Bader dominated Mitrione with his wrestling over three rounds, earning multiple 10-8 rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
“That was the first fight I’ve ever had that I got some nerves,” Mitrione said. “I didn’t come out and perform the way I should have. Bader’s a great wrestler. He’s very, very good. But I didn’t perform the way I should have, the way I did in camp. I just kind of chilled. Hopefully if I get another shot, we’ll see what I can do.”
Mitrione meets Sergei Kharitonov in a rematch in Saturday’s main event in Bridgeport, Connecticut. If he is able to return to the winning column, Mitrione believes he should be next in line for a shot at the heavyweight belt. Bader is set to defend it for the first time against Cheick Kongo next month at Bellator 226.
“I know that I am the best heavyweight — obviously next to Bader because Bader beat me — in the division,” Mitrione said. “I don’t think there’s any conversation to not put me in the spot for a title shot.”
Before Mitrione can even think about fighting for Bellator gold, he needs to get past Kharitonov. Their first fight, which took place in February, ended in 15 seconds due to a low blow from Mitrione. Kharitonov was unable to continue and the bout was ruled a no contest.
According to Mitrione, a rematch with Kharitonov was always the plan, and he’s not too worried that it didn’t happen sooner.
“I was saying it the night of the press conference, the night it happened,” Mitrione said. “Like, ‘Hey man, let’s get this thing done. Let’s run it back in Chicago, let’s do it whenever we can.’ The fans wanted to see that fight, and it’s a very solid heavyweight bout.
“I think both of us want to have this feather in our caps. I think I’m enough of a name that it would look good on Kharitonov’s record, which is very impressive already, and I think everybody knows that Kharitonov’s enough of a name that it would mean a lot for me to beat him.”
Looking back on his ill-fated kick that opened (and closed) his first fight with Kharitonov, Mitrione said “it sucked,” but he wasn’t overly frustrated with how things played out.
“There’s a lot of people I felt like I let down just because there was no performance attached to it,” Mitrione said. “But things happen. It’s the fight game. There’s always something crazy that happens.”
Mitrione said he saw nothing in the 15 seconds spent in the cage with Kharitonov that would make the rematch a different fight than the first — and he believes that goes the other way around, too. It’s almost as if the first fight didn’t happen at all.
“It’s the same fight,” Mitrione said. “It didn’t change at all. He saw so little of me and I saw so little of him. It’s pretty much the same game plan.”
In the opening seconds of Saturday’s rematch, Mitrione said he won’t be worried about potentially kicking Kharitonov low again. It’s not going to be a thought in the back of his head that could throw him off his game.
“That won’t bother me at all. It might bother him; it was his nuts on my foot,” Mitrione said. “But for me? Nah, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve kicked my entire career. The fact that that one kick got a little bit high or he stepped into it, however you want to look at it, that doesn’t bother me at all.”
Mitrione admitted that fans could be in for a longer fight on Saturday.
“I don’t get paid by the minute or by the punch, so I would love to be able to sleep him clean,” Mitrione said. “I just don’t see that as a viable option. He’s durable. He’s a different animal. He’s time-tested, he’s been around forever, he’s fought the best in the world, and he’s beaten almost all of them. He’s just really, really good.”