Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
MMAmania.com resident fight analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 Finale headliner -- and former NFL defensive lineman -- Matt Mitrione, who accepted a late-notice fight against Roy Nelson this Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 10 alum competitor Matt Mitrione headlines The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 Finale against Renzo Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Roy Nelson this Saturday night (Dec. 15, 2012) at "The Joint" inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"Meathead," a former defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, among other NFL squads, decided to try his hand at mixed martial arts (MMA) after his profession football career petered out. He, along with a few other former NFL players, as well as his opponent in "Sin City" this weekend, were recruited to participate on TUF 10: "Heavyweights."
Despite an impressive mix of agility and strength, Mitrione failed to impress on the show. Once he got his chance to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), however, he stepped up his training and won five straight. Then, after a loss to Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 in Oct. 2001, Mitrione decided to take some time off and regroup.
He was scheduled to fight Phil De Fries, but was pulled from that bout when Shane Carwin -- Nelson's opposing coach on TUF 16 -- blew out his knee. Now, he gets a chance at a huge upset, as well as headline a card for the first time in his young career.
Does Mitrione have the skills to get back to the win column?
Let's take a closer look:
Mitrione's striking has evolved quite a bit since his time on TUF. After leaving TUF house, Mitrione headed to train at Roufusport to learn under the watchful eye of Duke Roufus. However, he spent his most recent camp training with the Blackzillians in South Florida, where he likely picked up a few new tricks.
Thanks in large part to his professional football background, Mitrione is very quick for his size. A tall heavyweight with an 82-inch reach, Mitrione bounces around the Octagon, reminiscent of Travis Browne. Mitrione uses his constant movement to keep his opponent guessing, then bursts in with a fast combination.
For a man his size with such limited experience, his footwork is quite impressive.
Mitrione spends much his time standing in the kicking range. From there, he will either explode in with punches, or throw an inside leg kick. Mitrione throws the leg kick early and often, using it to keep his opponent off balance and open to his punches. Mitrione's inside leg kick played a major factor in his victory over Kimbo Slice, when he landed it at will until the former street fighter crumbled.
When Mitrione blitzes with his strikes, he almost exclusively throws some combination of his powerful straight left hand and hooks. He rarely tries anything else because it has worked so well for him. Since his first loss against Kongo, a fight where he was out struck nearly the entire time, it will be interesting to see if he has added any new weapons to his arsenal.
Mitrione's left straight is by far his most effective punch, accounting for a majority of his knockout victories. He adds extra power to it by leaping forward with it and it often catches his opponents off guard.
A major fault in Mitrione's striking game is his tendency to keep his hands down, which is very indicative of his inexperience. Kongo won their fight by jabbing Mitrione every time he bounced forward. So far Kongo is the only fighter to really capitalize on this, but Nelson's powerful over hand is a major incentive for him to guard his chin.
According to UFC.com and Fightmetric, Mitrione has attempted zero total takedowns. Any time he is on top, therefore, it's because of him dropping his opponent.
From the top position, Mitrione has demonstrated decent control and positional awareness. His ground-and-pound can be violent or mediocre, depending on whether he is trying to conserve energy. When he dropped Christian Morecraft, he did leave a basic half guard sweep open, which Morecraft capitalized on.
Mitrione's takedown defense is average at best. One thing on Mitrione's side is his constant footwork that keeps him far enough away to recognize when a takedown is coming. Once taken down, Mitrione is pretty good at wall walking back to his feet, although he is a bit too passive.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
"Meathead" has been seen training at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu in Hollywood, Calif., under the tutelage of the controversial Eddie Bravo. The only fight that showed a glimpse of Mitrione's jiu-jitsu game was his scrap with Slice two years ago.
Early on in the fight, Kimbo slammed Mitrione, but ended up in a triangle. Mitrione tried to finish, but was unable to get a good angle and force Kimbo to submit. A couple minutes later, Mitrione again tried the triangle, but failed to finish. Near the end of the first round, Mitrione attempted an anaconda choke.
His technique was actually passable, but his arm wasn't deep enough to finish.
While this was more than two years ago, it doesn't look good for Mitrione if Nelson decides to take him down. Nelson is a skilled black belt, and Mitrione was making amateur mistakes while on the ground.
Mitrione is much quicker than the average heavyweight, and his stick-and-move style is a much welcome difference from the standard, plodding brawl style that most lower-tier heavyweights use. This style has worked over that lower tier, but faltered the first time he faced an upper middle-tier guy.
As Mitrione continues to grow as an MMA fighter, he'll learn to utilize his speed and length even more. If he would commit to his jab more often, and keep his hands higher, he'd be a formidable force in the heavyweight division. So far, Mitrione has learned at an admirable pace, and it will be interesting to see how much he has developed in the year since his last fight.
Best chance for success
Mitrione absolutely has to keep his hands glued to his chin. He's never fought anyone who hits nearly as hard as Nelson does with such consistency, and he can't afford to get blasted often. Mitrione needs to execute his stick-and-move game plan perfectly without getting too aggressive.
If Mitrione has one advantage over Nelson, it's his cardio. "Meathead" is very relaxed when he fights, and Nelson has gassed before. If Mitrione can survive the first couple rounds, his chances of victory go up dramatically. By the third round, Nelson will be tired, fat and slow, a sitting duck for Mitrione's in-and-out boxing.
If Nelson comes in with a grappling-heavy gameplan, Mitrione is pretty much screwed. He has to defend with every ounce of his energy and focus on wall walking back to his feet. Mitrione absolutely cannot afford to suffocate under Nelson's excellent jiu-jitsu, which is often -- and this is good for Mitrione -- a secondary option for "Big Country."
Will Mitrione win the biggest fight of his career, or will Nelson beat another member of his TUF season?