What a difference two years makes.
Tonight (Sat., Oct. 29, 2011), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight fighter Matt Mitrione will be taking on French kickboxing specialist Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 in Las Vegas, Nevada for an opportunity to get his name in the mix of serious title contenders.
That may come as a shock to mixed martial arts (MMA) fans who have not been paying attention recently. Moreover, if you watched "Meathead" during the early stages of his career, you may even be asking yourself how he still has a job as a professional fighter.
With a perfect professional record of 5-0, Mitrione has grown by leaps and bounds between each one of his fights. The maturation seems to not only pertain to his abilities inside the cage, but also outside the Octagon as well.
Take a leisurely stroll with us down memory lane to see just how Mitrione got to be where he is today as a UFC fighter.
It all started in 2009 when Mitrione, a former defensive tackle for Purdue University, participated on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 10.
This particular season was far from being all about Mitrione. If you remember, it may as well have been called "The Kimbo Slice Show." On top of the "Kimbo" factor, the season was dominated by juvenile verbal sparring sessions and doors being broken by TUF season 10 coaches Rashad Evans and "Rampage" Quinton Jackson.
So how does a fighter get recognized amidst all of this "hoopla?" It's simple.
That's exactly what Mitrione did. He played possum. He undersold his abilities. No one took him seriously. Not Dana White, not his own coach (Evans) -- not anyone.
Ultimately, Mitrione lost in the quarterfinals to James McSweeney. Remember? Yes, that James McSweeney.
Since that point in time, Mitrione has gone on a tear. Four of his five victories have come by way of (technical) knockout and, to be fair, all five may have ended that way if he'd not run into the cinder block skull of Joey Beltran.
To make things even more interesting, Mitrione is featured on tonight's card with another fellow TUF season 10 alum. Who is it, you ask? None other than "Big Country" Roy Nelson.
Why is that significant? Because Nelson was the winner of that respective season of the show. He got the six-figure contract. He got the see-through trophy.
In a short two years, the two fighters have almost completely swapped positions. Mitrione now finds himself in the co-main event on a card where Nelson is essentially fighting for his career.
Mitrione has dedicated his life to becoming a mixed martial artist. He's done nothing but get better. He's passed up almost everyone that he came in with. The UFC keeps setting 'em up. Mitrione knocks 'em down.
But you don't know that Matt Mitrione. You know the Mitrione that goes on Ariel Helwani's show and makes fun of Tito Ortiz's girlfriend. Old habits die hard.
Regardless of your opinion of Mitrione, a win over Kongo at UFC 137 would be huge. In a division that has been hurting lately, Mitrione could potentially step to the front (or close to the front) of the line in one fell swoop.
What say you, Maniacs? Are you impressed by the new and improved "Matt Mitrione 2.0?" Kongo has said he's not concerned with Mitrione's punching power. Should he be?