Bellator 194: “Mitrione vs. Nelson 2” comes to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., this Friday night (Feb. 16, 2018), featuring a main event that will see old friends become rivals once again in a new organization as Matt Mitrione (12-5) squares off with ”Big Country” Roy Nelson (23-14) for a second time.
The first time they met was almost six years ago in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon for the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 Finale. Nelson had been scheduled to face his rival coach Shane Carwin, but Carwin withdrew with a knee injury and left Mitrione to take his place. The two put friendship aside in exchange for four-ounce gloves and a big payday in the Octagon.
That choice proved ill-fated for Mitrione as “Big Country” tagged him with a hard right more than halfway into the first round that ultimately sent “Meathead” crashing to the canvas for a knockout victory. Mitrione was the more physically imposing fighter coming in, but Nelson was the one cashing out the winner’s purse bonus.
“It was one hell of an experience (on TUF) because I was a heel, you know? It was stressful, a little bit uncomfortable and awkward — actually it kind of explains me. I think the show is a microcosm of my personality: Stressful, awkward and uncomfortable.”
Awkward or not it helped Mitrione transition from the National Football League (NFL) to mixed martial arts (MMA) and make a successful debut in the sport at TUF 10 Finale. After extinguishing his rivalry with Marcus Jones and opening his professional career undefeated (5-0), Mitrione had no idea he’d meet his former TUF teammate Nelson in the cage. He was eager for the chance, though.
“If you want to know the truth it was that I was supposed to fight Phil De Fries, and I had been out for 14 months, so Phil De Fries I felt was a much less dangerous fight than fighting Roy Nelson. So if I lost to Phil De Fries after three surgeries and being out for 14 months, it would do a lot of damage to me. So when the opportunity came up to fight Roy, I felt like, ‘Well this is a much safer bet. If I lose to Roy, he’s one of the best in the world. If I beat Roy well hell I came back after 14 months and just beat Roy Nelson!’”
It can be argued that despite being finished by Nelson in the fight he made the right choice, because Mitrione had seven more fights in UFC after that one. Even though Mitrione admits what he’s about to say is cliche, it’s still 100 percent true going into the rematch.
“I learned a lot from that fight. Like everybody says, I learned more from that loss than I did in any victory. I learned mistakes I made, and I learned how and why he capitalized on them. Good for Roy. Roy capitalized on the mistakes that I made and he won the fight because of it -- and the fight only went for like three minutes or something like that. It wasn’t even that long. It was my sixth fight ever, and I just got in there, and Roy won because he fought smarter.”
The official time was 2:58 and it was officially his seventh fight, having lost the sixth to Cheick Kongo, but to be fair he was close on both counts and had a one-year layoff between bouts as previously noted. Mitrione believes Nelson’s greatest attribute in the rematch will be his stubbornness.
“One of the things with Roy is that Roy is patient, Roy is persistent — he’s uh, stubborn. He sticks to a gameplan. He knows that if he sticks to it, sooner or later his one punch will land, and he can hold that down. Now it’s modified a little bit, where he goes for takedowns more aggressively, and goes for more takedowns in the open cage versus up against the wall, but it’s still the same philosophy.”
Mitrione was a little more reticent to say whether or not he would stick to a gameplan himself in taking on the pugnacious “Big Country” this weekend.
“Fighting Roy is like an IQ test. If you fight Roy the way that Roy wants to fight you, which is in a phone booth and stagnant, then your chances of winning aren’t very good. You’ll probably fail the IQ test. If (I) fight Roy athletically and long and mobile, which is the way I fight everybody, then I have a good chance of winning, so I might pass the IQ test. Other than that the rest is kind of up in the air.”
The next Heavyweight Grand Prix bracket to take place after Bellator 194 will be Fedor vs. Mir on April 28, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois. And Mitrione knows Fedor well so he’s already made his mind up about that fight.
“I think Fedor is extremely, extremely quick. I think that he welcomes going to the ground, that’s why I think Fedor fighting Frank is a fight lover’s dream. If it goes to the ground, sweet Jesus, like what on Earth is going to happen if Fedor and Frank go to the ground? You know it’s just the madness that could possibly happen is just insane to calculate. But, I don’t know necessarily know if I see it getting there. I think I see Fedor knocking Frank out.”
For Mitrione it’s not because Mir can’t pass Emelianenko’s “IQ test” in a human chess match — it’s simply that Mir’s been out of action for too long.
“I just think that Frank hasn’t fought in two years, so I think it’ll play a big difference. I think that Frank has a lot of weight, I think Frank’s got to cut weight right now, he’s got to lose quite a bit, and he might not be used to the fight tempo again. Two years out of the game is a long ass time to come back.”
Whether it’s behind the microphone or the confines of the cage, Mitrione never lacks confidence in his execution. And this Friday night you may just get a chance to witness both.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Mitrione vs. Nelson 2” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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