An in-depth conversation with one of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC
True story: I’ve interviewed Matt Mitrione more times than he’s fought in the UFC.
We first spoke when he was a former NFL’er ready to steal some of Roy Nelson and Kimbo Slice’s thunder on Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter. As engaging as he was, it was hard to know where Mitrione would end up when all the heavyweight season’s cards were dealt. After all, he was walking into a house with a cast of veterans and intriguing prospects with little more than his athleticism and a willingness to learn.
Nearly two years later, Mitrione is riding a four-fight winning streak into Sunday night’s meeting with Christian Morecraft. We talked again on Wednesday morning. Here’s the first part of that conversation, completely unfiltered because, well, I can’t write better Mitrione stories than the ones he tells.
Caution: Interview contains adult language and vast amounts of awesomeness. Consider yourself warned.
HeavyMMA: Here we are again, talking before another fight like we have for all of them so far. Two years ago you weren’t even in this sport, now here you are : undefeated, on another televised event, making your way up the rankings. I’m enjoying the progress and I want to know how you feel about things?
Mitrione: I’ve been pretty lucky really, to be honest. I don’t know how many other fighters are fortunate enough to say that all of their fights have been televised. The UFC has been really good to me. I try to give them the best show possible, and I always come prepared. I make sure I do my homework, I think pretty freely, and I speak pretty freely, so like I said, I try to put on the best performance possible, and they’ve done me well.
HeavyMMA: You speak pretty freely and you’re pretty honest about your own self-assessment in terms of what you’ve done and what you can potentially do. How important is that to you? Some people have the need to pump themselves up, but you seem to a sense of honesty with yourself and a self-deprecating way about you in terms of what you’ve accomplished and how much more there is for you to do.
Mitrione: I think it’s just who I am. Maybe it’s from the NFL, where I’ve been around $50 million athletes, so I can’t really lie to myself and say, “I’m more valuable than this person, I’m more valuable than that person.” I’ve been fortunate in that aspect, that I’ve been taught that humility is a great dish to eat all the time. I think I figured that out at a pretty early age, so I don’t need to talk myself up. I don’t need to brag about how good I think I can be at times, but if you have all the potential and talent in the world and don’t produce, than you’re a waste of everybody’s time and talent.
HeavyMMA: I wouldn’t necessarily say you talk yourself down, but is there a little bit of gamesmanship to the self-deprecation and playing up the “Meathead” from The Ultimate Fighter angle to keep opponents and potential future opponents not quite sure of where you’re coming from and take the focus away from the skills you’re building?
Mitrione: If somebody’s going to sell me short or not give me the credit due for my athleticism and the hard work I put in, that’s their responsibility; that’s their fault. But no, it’s not really intention on that aspect.
What it is intentional for is that I want to make sure that people understand — it’s real easy to see through and get tired of people who take themselves way too seriously and can never really enjoy where they’re at at the moment in time, and I do. I really do. Maybe it’s because I’m a burnout, maybe it’s because I listen to The Dead, but I really do understand that it’s been a long, strange trip, and I do take the time out to smell the flowers and enjoy the moment that I’m in. I feel that a lot of times, I really do enjoy the moment that I’m in and I absorb it; I breathe it in and take it in and say, “No shit — look what I’m doing right now. Look where I am right now. What a trip.”
I’ve got some many people that, honestly, if I didn’t play football, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. I probably would have been working construction, so everything that has happened in my life has been because of sport and because of my work ethic, and I guess my ability at the same time (laughs), so I get to these points where I think… I’ve got so many great friends of mine who are still home, doing construction, framing in winter time. Who wants to do that shit? I was just fortunate enough that I’ve had enough hurdles and setbacks in my way that made me really appreciate when good things happen.