Two heavyweights in need of a win will take to the Octagon this Saturday night (April 6, 2013) as Matt Mitrione takes on Phil De Fries on the UFC on FUEL TV 9 main card in Stockholm, Sweden.
Mitrione was once considered the best heavyweight prospect in the promotion, but after two straight losses to the likes of Cheick Kongo and Roy Nelson, he's been left looking for what went wrong. He's hoping he can right the ship with a big win on the main stage this weekend.
De Fries has a solid grappling game, but he's been stuck on the feet in both his UFC defeats, getting knocked out inside the first round by powerful strikers Stipe Miocic and Todd Duffee. He'll be hoping to keep the bout in his realm this time around against Mitrione.
Record: 5-2 overall, 5-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Roy Nelson (The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale), Cheick Kongo (UFC 137)
How he got here: After a brief and uneventful career spent in the NFL as a lineman, Matt Mitrione tossed his hat into the cage to give mixed martial arts a try. Despite never having competed professionally, he was accepted as a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter's tenth season where he was portrayed as one of the "bad guys."
"Meathead" has since shed that reputation with his fun-loving personality and the ever-present smile on his face, even while he's locked in combat. Mitrione dominated Marcus Jones in his UFC debut and followed it up with what many casual fans perceived as a "huge" win over Kimbo Slice at UFC 113.
He stole the show at UFC 119 with a "Fight of the Night" winning performance against Joey Beltran and then showcased his improved striking with a smashing first round knockout of Tim Hague earlier this year. In his last performance, Mitrione pounded Christian Morecraft for nearly two full rounds before finishing the fight last in the second.
Mitrione was hoping to take it to the next level against Cheick Kongo but he was manhandled by the more experienced foe and instead of working his way back against a lower level opponent, he stepped up to fight Roy Nelson on short notice as an injury replacement. This decision backfired as he was finished via knockout inside the first round and is now looking to end a streak of defeats lasting nearly two years.
How he gets it done: The ex-NFL lineman would love to continue to showcase his improved striking. He's got great movement for heavyweight and bounces around very light on his feet. Sure he got knocked out in his last bout, but Phil De Fries is not Roy Nelson.
De Fries will likely be shooting in for takedowns to test Mitrione's ground game. He'll need to use his athleticism to drop down and sprawl quickly. Mitrione will be the bigger fighter on Saturday night and De Fries isn't the greatest wrestler, so as long as he's not caught completely off guard with a takedown attempt, he should be able to stuff them.
They key for Mitrione will be to utilize that athleticism to remain at the proper distance and continue to work his punches and kicks. He should be able to avoid the danger of the canvas while scoring with heavy strikes. If he can connect with any power shot to the head, De Fries has been knocked out twice now and he could make it a third.
Record: 9-2 (1 no contest) overall, 2-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Todd Duffee (UFC 155), Stipe Miocic (UFC on Fuel TV 2)
How he got here: Philip De Fries has been a grappler in the heavyweight division from the beginning. The 6'5 Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt trains under Rodrigo Cabral and began his professional career in 2009, competing four times in the Strike and Submit promotion, winning all four bouts via submission.
After a no contest against Dave Wilson, De Fries moved on to score three straight submissions in 2011, notably tapping out fellow top prospect Stav Economou with a second round rear naked choke at Ultimate Warrior Challenge 16.
De Fries earned an invite to the UFC with the impressive showing and battled Rob Broughton on the UFC 138 undercard, outgrappling "The Bear" and scoring a unanimous decision victory. He tried to build off that victory against Stipe Miocic but after hurting the Ohio prospect, he was finished via strikes in less than a minute to suffer his first defeat.
He bounced back with a strong showing against Oli Thompson, but when he tried to make it two in a row against Todd Duffee, he again landed early but couldn't hang on the feet and was finished in two minutes in his last bout.
De Fries is in desperate need of a win this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Plain and simple, De Fries needs to take this fight to the ground at all costs. He's not at a level yet where he can afford to stand and trade with legit strikers consistently. Sure, he's improving and he's hurt his opponents in both of his first round knockout losses, but he doesn't yet have that ability to outwork his foes on the feet. He must close the distance early whether it be with takedown attempts or at least the clinch where he can work for trips or attacks against the fence.
De Fries needs to pull out all the stops against Mitrione in his efforts to get this fight to the canvas, even pulling guard if he must. Mitrione has had his issues in the past against the likes of Chieck Kongo and was manhandled on the ground by a more powerful opponent and he needs to replicate that success.
If he can get Mitrione down, expect him to work a top game while threatening submissions just like in his fight with Broughton and Thompson. The Sunderland native has some terrific guard passes and is capable of putting a stranglehold on just about everyone once he wears them down or surprises them. He'll need to keep very strong hip pressure, though, if he wants to keep his explosive opponent down.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is extremely simple. Whoever can impose their will is going to win. Mitrione wants to keep it standing at striking range while De Fries will be doing everything he can to close the distance and take this bout to the ground. Expect several takedown attempts and some heavy clinching on several occasions as De Fries is going to make Mitrione work if he wants to implement his gameplan.
It's almost guaranteed that whoever can take the fight into their realm is going to come out smelling like a rose. It all just depends on who is more properly prepared to get it there.
Bottom Line: If Mitrione can keep this fight standing, it'll be pretty fun. De Fries isn't a horrible striker by any means and in both fights where he's been finished he actually landed some heavy shots of his own and was potentially on his way to winning. It's not a guaranteed win for "Meathead" if the bout stays on the feet.
On the ground, however, this fight could get ugly. Mitrione had some serious problems getting out from under Cheick Kongo and while I'm sure he's addressed those issues over the last two years in training, it could still come back to bite him if De Fries is able to change levels and put him on his back. De Fries has some decent submissions but I fear his risk-taking abilities especially with him knowing a loss could leave him unemployed. This fight is a mixed bag for me.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 9? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!