September 22, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Mitrione is just getting started in his MMA career, but the heavyweight is already on a card in front of fans and friends in Indianapolis. Just a few days before his fight with Joey Beltran, Mitrione met with fans (and Cagewriter) at a Buffalo Wild Wings two blocks from Conseco Fieldhouse, the arena for UFC 119.
"I feel better than I've ever felt. Phenomenal," Mitrione said. "I think old man strength is starting to set in."
At 32, he is 2-0 in the UFC and in his MMA career. Mitrione was a castmember of the tenth season of "The Ultimate Fighter," where he and two other former football players learned about MMA from the Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
As a former football player, Mitrione is aware of some of the recent findings about football players and brain damage. Former Cincinnati Bengal Chris Henry died a strange death, and a University of Pennsylvania football player committed suicide. Both were later found to have chronic traumatic encephelopathy, a type of brain damage.
Mitrione said that after playing at Purdue University and for one year in the NFL, he still feels the effects from the repetitive hits of being a defensive tackle.
"I guarantee you I have brain damage. I don't think as clearly as I used to, and I'm not as quick-witted as I used to be. Sometimes, my words run together," he said. "My short-term memory isn't great. I don't get headaches, but I know that the damage from football is done."
The father of two boys (and another child due in November) and a huge fan of the sport said that he won't let his sons play football, but he would let them try MMA.
Though he is fighting in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis, his wife will not be in attendance.
"When you're a fighter, you know that there is a possibility that you get your [profane] kicked. I don't mind that, but if my wife is there, she's going to get upset. She's going to hear people cheer and boo me, and she won't be able to change the channel. If I'm getting my [profane] kicked and she's there, I'm going to be more worried about her than focusing on the fight, and getting myself out of that situation."
To get ready for this fight, Mitrione continued to try to learn MMA, a sport he is new to but has so much talent in. He worked with Purdue assistant wrestling coach Tom Erickson and spent time at Roufus Sport. He asked the UFC for a fighter who will give him a challenge, and will fight Beltran on the televised undercard on Spike.
"Joey has good heart, and tries hard. I think he's got a good chin and good power, but it's so subjective. I think I've got great power and a great chin, too. But I'm in the best shape of my life, and I will be game for it."
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