Some fighters have an explanation for everything.
From Pay-Per-View main events in the UFC to the opening fight on the most regional of shows, almost every loss comes with a back story - the poor training camp or the injury suffered three weeks out, the judges that screwed them over or the relationship turmoil that ate up too much of their attention.
They’ve been uttered so many times by so many people that it has become de rigueur post-fight behavior. Whether it’s immediately following the fight or before the next one is about to jump off, everybody’s got a story to tell about why things went wrong the last time they strapped on their gloves.
Matt Mitrione isn’t that guy.
Coming off a first round submission loss to Brendan Schaub last September, the former NFL defensive lineman turned UFC heavyweight, who is never at a loss for words, refuses to make excuses. They’re chambered, but he’s not going to pull the trigger.
“I’ve had stresses the same as everyone else in the world. My life has not been very unique in that aspect,” says the now 6-3 former Ultimate Fighter contestant, who returns to the Octagon Saturday in Macao to face fellow footballer-turned-fighter Shawn Jordan.
“I compartmentalized things pretty well for quite a while and it just came to bite me in the ass a little bit, but everybody has a story and nobody cares, to be honest. You just go in, do your job the best you can - whatever that job is - and hopefully you don’t kick your dog when you get home.
“I just screwed up - I had one of those fights,” continues Mitrione, a late arrival to MMA that has never fought anywhere other than inside the UFC Octagon. “I like Brendan as a person - I think he crossed the line in running his mouth a bit too much - and I would love to have that fight back and do it over again, but the facts are what they are: Brendan beat me in that fight, choked me unconscious.”
Rather than focus on the setbacks, the Indiana-based competitor is looking forward, ready to make the trip to Macao and step into the cage with Jordan.
It’s a pairing of two of the more explosive athletes in the heavyweight ranks, and one that will surely be listed in the traditional pre-fight “Hot Seat” pieces that detail which fighters are presumed to be battling to stay in the MMA big leagues.
Following a five-fight winning streak to start his career, Mitrione has hit a rough patch of late, dropping three of his last four after working is way into the veteran middle-tier of the weight class. Jordan, meanwhile, has posted a 3-2 mark since migrating to the UFC from Strikeforce, but he too enters Saturday’s main card contest coming off a loss.
As fair and valid as the questions about “what comes next?” are heading into this one, the ornery Mitrione is confident in his track record and more worried about getting back to doing the things that made him successful earlier in his career than whether he’ll be handed a pink slip if he comes out on the wrong side of things again this weekend.
“I legitimately couldn’t care less what one person says regarding me, my job security, my anything,” he says emphatically. “I put on exciting fights whether I win or lose. I come out there and I work my ass off, so if I lose and the UFC tries to get rid of me, hell, I’ll either go to medical school or become a talking head. I don’t know, but I’m not worried about my job security.
“I’m going to go out there and bust my ass. I’m excited to fight - he’s going to be the first lefty I fought, which opens up some new options as far as stand-up goes. But really it’s the same thing I’ve said about everybody else: it’s not about them or what they do, it’s about me and how I handle what goes on.
“I just have to go out there and do what I do best, and that’s long fighting,” details the agile heavyweight. “I’ve got really good strength on the inside and I’m a hell of a grappler. I didn’t show it last time, and if he’s fortunate enough to get me to the ground, we’ll see what happens.
“For the most part, it’s just go do what I do best - be me and that’s all. I’ll probably crack a smile a couple times during the fight and I’m going to land some big leather on him. He’s going to try to land his best shots on me too, so we’ll go from there and see what happens.”
On his way up the heavyweight ranks, Mitrione was heralded as a dark horse contender. Now that he’s hit a rough patch, fans and critics have all but dismissed him - declaring that he’s plateaued or never was all that great to begin with, a favorite of every revisionist fan and forum poster.
While the opinions of those watching his performances may have changed, Mitrione’s confidence has never wavered. He knows what he’s capable of doing when he puts everything together properly, and that’s precisely what he plans on doing Saturday night against Jordan.
“Ideally (this is a chance to start fresh) and I firmly believe - and maybe this is my own arrogance, and I’m pretty damn arrogant - I believe I’m one of the best fighters in the world. Overall, I’m pretty damn good. I had some growing pains and I screw up some stuff. Like we kind of touched on before, I’ve been the living embodiment of trying to handle some stresses and not eliminating them as I should have.
“This fight here, I know what I want in my mind and I know what I think is going to happen. I’ve got a real chip on my shoulder and I look forward to going out there and proving to myself.”
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