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Mike Schmitz: Matt Mitrione’s streak of success & why he’s managed to make it work

By Zach Arnold | July 6, 2011

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By Mike Schmitz

Year in and year out NFL dropouts attempt the leap of faith from the gridiron to the octagon, but none have made that transition as seamlessly as Matt Mitrione. In 2006 the former All-Big-10 defensive lineman and six-year NFL veteran hung up his cleats to study the ins and outs how to fight at the professional level. An injury plagued NFL career as a backup came to a screeching halt after Mitrione struggled through countless foot surgeries and had to call it quits.

But after only two years as an MMA pro, Mitrione’s found his place in the octagon having racked up five victories and four knockouts in only five fights. The 265-pound Meathead is no longer known as ‘the guy from Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter.’ He’s become much more than ‘the fighter how to fight Kimbo Slice,’ or ‘the NFL injury dropout.’

Mitrione has arrived as a UFC mainstay and the 32-year-old is progressing like a young gun just bursting onto the scene. He fights with poise beyond his experience, and proved that by defeating Christian Morecraft via KO in UFC on Versus 4. He’s confident, charismatic, and most importantly, competitive. Mitrione’s proven himself against the likes of Morecraft, Joey Beltran, Tim Hague, Kimbo Slice and Marcus Jones (former NFL player).

His heavy hands, calm demeanor and undefeated record suggest that he’s ready to ramp up his competition. But is Mitrione really prepared to fight the top MMA pros?

“I want to fight a top guy,” Mitrione recently said on The MMA Hour radio program at MMAFighting.com. “I like and respect Frank Mir. He and I are cool, and I think it would be a really fun fight. (But) I made so many mistakes (against Morecraft). I wonder if anyone else who fights feels the way I do after they fight. If I would have made those mistakes against Cheick Kongo or Frank Mir, I would’ve lost. It makes me wonder what the right step is next. My hands, I can scrap with anybody. Technique wise, ehh …” 

Who could Mitrione see in his next fight? Here are five possibilities:

  1. Cheick Kongo: With both Kongo and Mitrione coming off of impressive wins, UFC fans around the country are thirsting for this matchup. Although it does bring a lot of intrigue, Kongo is still a cut above Meathead. Kongo’s fought 10 more UFC fights than Mitrione and has years of experience on Meathead. Yes it would sell and bring a lot of hype, but it’s not the right fight for Mitrione moving forward.
  2. Frank Mir: If Kongo is too much for Mitirone to handle, than Mir definitely shouldn’t be his next opponent. After UFC on Versus 4 fighter and analyst Stephan Bonnar said Mitrione should meet Mir in his next fight. But the former UFC champion is head and shoulders above the still raw Mitrione. He’s arguably a top 10 heavyweight, while Mitrione is still wavering between the second and third tier of heavyweight fighters. If Mitrione wins another fight or two, I can see this matchup, but not after only five fights.
  3. Dave Herman: Pee-Wee appears to be the happy medium for Mitrione. Herman is 21-2 at the professional level, but he’s still new to UFC (only one fight) and is a bit untested. He also has a wrestling background and could give Mitrione trouble on the ground, which is something he really hasn’t seen yet. Mitrione versus Herman is the ideal fight moving forward.
  4. Stefan Struve: The 6-foot-11 Skyscraper is a definite possibility for Mitrione. He’s more of a second-tier fighter but has also taken on the likes of Junior Dos Santos (TKO loss in 2009). He’s much more tested than Mitrione but fights the same talent level as Mitrione. He defeated Morecraft (KO) at UFC 117 and is coming off of a loss to Travis Browne. Herman still seems ideal, but Struve is a close second.
  5. Roy Nelson: Big Country has lost two fights in a row, but both came to JDS and Mir by unanimous decision. He defeated Struve by TKO in UFC Fight Night 21 and is in need of a win. He proved he couldn’t hang with Mir and JDS, but would be a good matchup for a surging Mitrione. He’s a few years older than Mitrione and brings power Mitrione hasn’t seen. Although it would be a competitive fight, Mitrione needs someone younger and on the rise rather than a declining Nelson.

Mitrione’s shown more than enough to defeat his most recent opponents, but what needs to happen for him to make the jump into the second tier of heavyweight contenders?

He’s obviously full of power, but if he’s not connecting Meathead is vulnerable. His defense is sub-par and his wrestling is nearly non-existent. He has solid kickboxing skills from learning under Duke Roufus and is quick on his feet for his size, but he needs to learn how to fight on ground and improve his defense to become more complete.

Once Mitrione does that, the next step would be to challenge the likes JDS or Cain Velasquez. At this point of his career, Mitrione isn’t even close. He can hang with almost anyone on his feet due to his heavy hands, but he isn’t as quick as JDS or Velasquez and wouldn’t last long against the top-tier heavyweights.

But regardless of who Mitrione ends up facing in his next fight and where he ranks among heavyweight fighters, it’s clear he’s made his presence felt in not only UFC, but the sport of MMA. Where he started out on The Ultimate Fighter and where he’s at now is a pleasant surprise.

He’s proven that the fighter-to-athlete route can lead to success. Matt Mitrione is no longer a former NFL player who knows how to fight, he’s become a full-fledged MMA fighter with a bright future ahead of him. A slow and steady push will prove to benefit him in the long-term. He has become a star in the UFC and, given the current vacuum of stars in the company (due to injuries, inactivity, too many shows), has positioned himself to take advantage of the current Heavyweight landscape.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 19 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

19 Responses to “Mike Schmitz: Matt Mitrione’s streak of success & why he’s managed to make it work”

  1. edub says:

    Honestly I was thinking Kongo after the event was over, but after a little bit of time away I’d say Herman or Browne.

    I think if Kongo gets a win too, him and Mitrione would be a good UFN or Versus headliner down the line.

    • The Gaijin says:

      I agree – Kongo is probably too big of a jump right now. So I’d look at Herman or Browne or if you want what I think would be another “build” fight put him against Struve so you’ll have the impressive visual of him beating a 6′11 fighter.

      In a perfect world I’d have him fight Hunt, but I think they see some draw in Meathead so they’re going to sacrifice him against someone worthwhile (another reason why they probably won’t do a Kongo fight for a few more).

      I know this sounds like a broken record, but honestly I just don’t get the hype people are on with Mitrione. The guy’s strength of schedule is absolutely abysmal. But kudos to Joe Silva because he’s made a limited TUF HW fighter with a lot of gaping holes in his game into a fighter that has some buzz.

  2. Kelvin Hunt says:

    I don’t think Kongo’s too big of a jump at all. His chin is suspect and with the power that Mitrione brings to the table…he would have a good shot at beating Kongo…

    I think Herman’s a more risky fight than Kongo…Herman has a very good chin and is more well rounded than Kongo.

    • The Gaijin says:

      There is a Grand Canyon-like chasm of difference between an opponent like Cheick Kongo and the Marcus Jones, Kimbo Slice, Joey Beltran, Tim Hague and Christian Morecraft’s of the mma world. None of these guys are even stand-up guys.

      In Kongo’s last ten fights he’s lost to Mir, Velazquez and Herring. Yeah not too shabby eh? And he gave Velazquez all he could handle when he was a lot farther along as a fighter than Mitrione is right now. Mitrione might hit hard so he’s got a “puncher’s chance,” but Kongo’s a far more technical striker and would drive a truck through the holes in Meathead’s defense and he’s lacks the wrestling to put him horizontal (or threaten to) if he gets in trouble.

    • edub says:

      Kongo could also put him on his back like Barry thought he was going to do. All in all I don’t think Kongo is that big of a leap (although it definitely is big) for Matt at the moment, but I just think it’s not needed right now. Both could headline a smaller event at the beginning of next year. No need to rush it.

      I gotta completely disagree about Herman. Taking shots from a big guy who is a natural grappler doesn’t mean that he has a good chin. The way he keeps his chin straight up in the air would have me put down a shit load of money on Meathead in that fight. On top of that Mitrione has shown he can roll the distance in a back and forth fight. Herman is a known “gasser”.

      • Kelvin Hunt says:

        A natural grappler? I don’t follow that…or maybe you were basically saying a guy that has a predominantly grappling background? Don’t forget that Einemo has been training at Golden Glory for years…and any guy that big has to have good power…and Herman ate big shots…I definitely think Mitrione has good power..but it’s not devastating one punch power like a Shane Carwin either.

        Just saying..I think Kongo is more prone to getting stopped than Herman.

        • edub says:

          Yes and I’m saying I completely disagree with that assessment.

          I don’t care where he trains at, he’s had a handful of mma fights in which he grappled his way to victory or lost (on top of having a decorated grappling background). He’s a big guy that probably hits hard, but in the Herman fight his striking looked terrible and Herman still got caught with big punches (and was doing the chicken dance up until he got the KO).

          I’m not trying to say that Matt hits amazingly hard either, what I’m saying is a guy who has below average defense, no head movement, and keeps his chin straight up in the air would be nothing but target practice for Mitrione (a guy with a long reach, decent boxing, quick hands, and average power).

        • The Gaijin says:

          And Fabricio Werdum trained at Chute Boxe. So what if they trained at camp X, that doesn’t change the fact that their background/skill-set/expertise is in grappling. Einemo is a BJJ Blackbelt and ADCC champ, he’s a natural grappler.

          Just because you’re “a big guy” doesn’t give you “big power” because there’s a lot more to striking than that – technique is huge. Anyone can wing Leonard Garcia punches that look like they’re hitting “big” but with poor technique the windmill/haymaker striking is actually taking off a lot of power.

  3. All or nothing for Mitrione. Give him guys like Struve to puff the record up and then throw him in the deep water with someone who has better potential upside. He’s not a 23 year old kid with a great wrestling background or anything. He’s a 30+ ex-football player with the clock ticking on his physical prime, which will probably end before he learns the sort of veteran tricks he’d need to stay relevant after his physical skills start to leave.

  4. Chuck says:

    What about Brendan Schaub? Schaub would more than likely win, but that fight is good for both guys.

  5. david m says:

    I think you guys are overrating Kongo. He hits hard but isn’t a particularly technical striker (although admittedly he has improved), has no fluidity, and isn’t as fast or loose as Mitrione is.

    I would like to see Mitrione knock Struve’s head off for my own enjoyment. A fight vs Roy would be fun as well.

  6. Fighting Onion says:

    Kongo’s chin is very suspect. If Mitrione kept the fight on his feet, he’d probably KO Kongo. If I was MM, I’d keep working on my takedown defense, and make my boxing a bit crisper. Mitrione’s hands may be the best in HW division. They are even better than people think. Also, he has the athletic ability to keep the fight standing against almost anyone. Any fighter would be a fool to underestimate Mitrione.

    • The Gaijin says:

      “Mitrione’s hands may be the best in HW division.”

      http://i779.photobucket.com/albums/yy78/Stazima/Memes/NotSureIfSerious.jpg

    • Chuck says:

      Mitrione having the best hands at HW? NAY! That honor goes to Junior Dos Santos. Mitrione has the advantage of having long arms and being pretty tall. Another thing he has is that his hands are pretty fast (PRETTY fast, note the keyword) and he lets his hands loose very liberally. His technique isn’t that great, but not terrible. Dos Santos hits hard, throws fast, and has good technique.

      Antoehr heavyweight with punching technique somewhat similar to Mitrione? Daniel Cormier. He doesn’t have the reach and height that Mitrione has, but his hands are pretty fast and he lets them go liberally. He might be a little TOO loose with his punches (his hands are usually open when he throws them. Very risky).

      • edub says:

        Cormier vs. Mitrione would be hella intriguing to me if they fought right now. Of course neither “should” or “need” to fight right now, but I think it would be a very interesting prospect fight.

        • Chuck says:

          It would be an interesting fight, but Cormier would win. With his wrestling background he would take Mitrione with relative ease. Morecraft was taking Mitrione down with little hardship in that fight. Cormier would do much better against Mitrione.

          If they kept the fight standing? THAT would make an interesting fight. Mitrione might have the slight advantage (mostly because of his height and reach). In the striking area Cormier has a little better technique (he goes to the body, uses angles, etc.) and Mitrione just throws straight and head hunts but his reach and his liberalness of throwing punches might compensate for that.

  7. [...] The Secret to Matt Mitrione’s Success (FightOpinion.com) [...]

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