Matt Mitrione (9-5) became the latest fighter to sign on with Bellator MMA after competing for several years in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The 14-fight veteran, who fought exclusively in UFC since his promotional debut in 2009, made the news official on Monday's episode of "The MMA Hour," and said his new deal would earn him six-figures per each of his fights.
With the rise of Bellator MMA under the direction of Scott Coker, fighters now have more than just UFC to land a solid payday. A new age of free agency has surfaced in recent months with fighters testing the waters like Gilbert Melendez before he re-signed with the UFC, while other's left the Octagon behind like Phil Davis, Josh Thomson, and more recently Benson Henderson.
Mitrione, 37, is a former NFL player, so he fully understands free agency and athletes being able to move to a different team for a better contract. Bellator MMA has now become that other team, so to speak, and given athletes like the former contestant on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) another option for their careers.
"Meathead" had mentioned on "The MMA Hour" in so many words that a man with options is a dangerous man. He elaborated on those thoughts when he spoke to MMAmania.com.
"There is no way without feeling a threat that you are ever going to be in a position of power," he said. "You're not. That is the reason why a man with options is the most dangerous thing because I can say, 'you know what? To hell with it. I'm not going to do that anymore. I don't like the options and I'm going to split and that's what is going to be.' That is where the change comes into play and that is where the danger is. The powers that be can lose whatever they have or whatever they hold dear or whatever they are trying to manipulate and everything can be totally different. That is the beauty of a free market: options."
And when his contract with the UFC was up after his recent loss to Travis Browne at UFC Fight Night 81 in January, Bellator wasted no time in seeking to get him on board.
"Bellator aggressively pursued me,' Mitrione said. "I would say that comfortably. I had some talks with ONE FC a little bit, but I think Bellator knew I could put a stamp on their division and come in and shake it up immediately. I also have a very dedicated, very loyal fan base. Even if people don't follow me on Instagram or Twitter, or whatever, people pay attention to my fights."
After making $36,000 for his last fight, which had he won he would've pocketed an additional $36,000, he will now make a considerably higher amount than before. The UFC didn't match Bellator MMA's offer, but if it had, Mitrione would not have been able to land his other new gig: being a color commentator for Bellator Kickboxing, which kicks off in Italy on April 16, 2016. The Blackzilian-trained fighter said that was a "major consideration point" for him.
Mitrione went through an audition process in New York to land the gig and said it's always something he wanted to do and he's been working on his broadcasting chops with his friend and retired UFC welterweight, Chris Lytle, and also drew influence from a pair of UFC's most articulate heavyweights Josh Barnett and Frank Mir.
He isn't getting any younger and much like his former sport the NFL, fighters don't have long careers either. So it was important to him to find something he can transition to once he is done fighting.
"The further you are away from your college degree or even your high school diploma, the further you are away from that the less valuable you are to the work force," he explained. "So you need to make sure you are being compensated appropriately for being less valuable to the work force, or that you are developing skills that can carry you as long as it ends up the way you hope it does. So it's crucial to have an option and a second job. It's crucial. If everything goes bad and I lose some fights and I don't get paid a certain amount of money I'm not hoping I can make it to my next job and wait till my next paycheck. I've been there and I don't ever want to be there ever again. That is what I am trying to fix now."
One of the biggest parts of his new deal is the ability to once again secure sponsorship opportunities. Mitrione has been an outspoken opponent of the UFC's deal with Reebok and said he has already been contacted by several companies since announcing his deal with Bellator MMA, while a few others like WingStop and Rap Protien have stuck by him even though he could no longer support them inside the cage by wearing their logos on his shorts or donning a tee shirt.
Many pundits have said that fighters will be heading to Bellator MMA simply because of sponsorships. I've argued that ultimately it's about the bottom line and what their fight purse is worth more than anything. Mitrione is now making six figures a fight, which is much greater than what he made in UFC competition.
So he was asked if the contract is the most important aspect as opposed to sponsorship opportunities.
"Yeah it is, but when I first started, your sponsorship dollars it would triple your fight purse and so sponsor dollars are no slouch," he explained. "And on top of that you have to remember something, it's not just what is inside the cage -- it's what comes afterward. It's the seminars that come, the flights, the business hands that you shake when you are at the appearances from your sponsors that are inside the cage. It's a number of things that are relevant when it comes down to sponsorships, not just the money at hand with the fight purse."
So, Bellator's newest heavyweight is saying by having an opportunity to wear logos inside the cage it essentially makes it easier to land other additional sponsorships.
"Of course it's what I'm saying," Mitrione affirmed. "I have the gift of gab. Anybody I meet I can have a great conversation with and see if there is a mutual interest there. So as long as I have sponsors that are like,' Hey I find him a warm conversationalist' then someone is going to be interested in bringing me out somewhere, I'm going to meet somebody, I'm going to shake a hand with somebody, I'm going to talk to somebody, some bond of similarity is going to come up and we are going to say,'wow, buh-buh-buh, hey here is my business card why don't you reach out to me I have this opportunity coming up and I'd love for you to be involved in or I'd love your opinion on it.' And then you start doing some stuff and making some deals. That is the way business works. That is all directly relative to your sponsorships, your dollars, your interest and the people you can bring on board."
I argued that athletes aren't securing the best representation to help them land other revenue streams outside of the cage and that there is a strong need for that. Mitrione's response was that you can't undervalue or downplay an athlete who can represent himself.
"There is, but you are also--and I'm not being confrontational at all--but you are kind of minimizing the athletes role in representing themselves," he said, going into further detail. "Meeting me and interacting with me is much more valuable than having a good agent because I can have a mediocre agent introduce me to somebody and I am going to be able to show them who I am and how I work and that is going to win me more jobs and that is going to land me more positions than anything else that somebody else can do for me. It's who I am and how I am as a person. So, maybe I have a skewed perspective on it, but I feel that I am directly in control of what lands in my plate to eat, not anybody else. They can make an introduction, but it's up to me to secure it."
And how about other sponsorship and endorsement opportunities that other fighters aren't seeking? Many are just focused on wearing sponsored tee shirts and hats and company logos on their shorts. They aren't exactly exhausting all measures to try and find other revenue streams outside of the cage that could be available to them. In regards to UFC fighters they are forced to search outside the cage under the Reebok deal, but others won't pursue anything else if they can continue on with in-cage sponsors.
Mitrione agreed to a small extent, but elaborated on why he believes it is difficult for fighters to find those opportunities.
"I think it makes it very difficult to monetize the name and representation you built for yourself, so because of that you are probably right," he said. "Most companies that are sponsoring MMA don't have 75-80 thousand dollars, 100 thousand dollars to get a print add and it's not even going to run a TV commercial or do whatever else. And post-media only works so far with the reach and if you are reaching you are only reaching a specific demographic versus all the demographics. I think you are right, but I think there is a different perspective on it as well."
Mitrione says he is looking to get into the cage as soon as possible, "I only get paid to work and I'm looking to work," he said. It's safe to say that Bellator MMA's heavyweight division could use a serious shot in the arm and Mitrione feels he is just the right guy to make some noise and provide some solid entertainment to shake things up a bit.
"I'm just going to be me brother and I've been a lighting rod my entire life just being me," said Mitrione, who has already engaged in some trash talk with another fighter in his division. "I don't know any other way. The first thing I did was send an aggressive tweet out to one of their guys that wanted to fight me. So I only know how to be me. If that helps sell them tickets then awesome I'm happy about it. That's just who I am brother."
Of course, the experts and more so the fans will be criticizing Mitrione's move to Bellator MMA, saying he will no longer be competing against the best fighters in MMA. Mitrione could care less what they have to say. He is happy with his new deal, has a ton of respect for Bellator president Scott Coker, and said he won't pay it any mind, let alone fully address it.
However, he did provide a few thoughts on it.
"I"m not going to say shit to them except them being uneducated and ignorant," he said. "Look man, if you believe the UFC is the end all be all then you obviously never understood what Strikeforce was about, what the heavyweight grand prix was about, that Ronda came for there, that Rockhold came from Strikeforce. So if you are going to be a UFC homer than that is your fault for being ignorant. I don't have to say anything to make you feel one way or the other.
"If you are a fan of the sport, a fan of athletes and a fan of competitors than you are probably going to be a fan of Scott Coker because the man that has a track record of improving the condition of things and he built Strikeforce from the ground up and it was an incredible success. I don't feel I need to say anything to them."
It's certainly refreshing to hear an athlete address the "UFC homers."
"It sucks that the UFC is bigger than the sport. It sucks. It's great for them financially, but that is the running joke with anyone that fights: 'you train UFC?' It is what it is. If it wasn't for them the sport wouldn't be where it is. It's a love hate relationship sometimes."