Mitrione parlays villain role into big shot

Kevin Iole

LAS VEGAS – Matt Mitrione may be forever remembered as "Meathead," the guy who complained that an opponent rattled his brain.

Some of his teammates on "The Ultimate Fighter" dubbed him "The Rat," and held a pool to guess when he would snap mentally.

Mitrione's histrionics were a big part of the recently completed season on Spike TV, but they also obscure the fact that he is a viable prospect who has the size, punching power and athleticism to develop into a top-tier heavyweight.

He'll meet Marcus Jones on Saturday at the Palms Hotel & Casino on the televised portion of "The Ultimate Fighter Finale" on Spike TV, intent on proving he can fight.

Mitrione, who played nine games in the NFL for the New York Giants as a defensive tackle in 2002, concedes he's not a finished product as a mixed martial artist yet.

"I'm a football player doing MMA right now," Mitrione said. "Give me a couple of years and I'll probably be an official MMA guy."

Until he proves he can fight, Mitrione will be the cocky guy who drove coach Rashad Evans nuts.

Mitrione, 31, is hardly a fan of Evans, who mocked him frequently during the show.

"I have absolutely nothing to say to Rashad at all," Mitrione said Thursday. "Nothing whatsoever. If he's going to be that way, cool. Let him be that way. He has no idea who I am."

Other than Kimbo Slice and the constant arguing between Evans and fellow coach Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Mitrione's frequently odd behavior was the focus of much of the show.

In Week 4, he reveals Evans' planned matchups to the other side, leading to his teammates calling him a "snitch" and a "rat."

In Week 5, he complained about a shoulder injury, though no one believed he was hurt.

In Week 7, he spoke of hearing voices in his head. In Week 9, Mitrione says Scott Junk "rattled my brain" in their fight and seems to indicate he won't be able to compete in the semifinals. He says in Week 10 that a doctor told him he had swelling of the brain.

The result is that he came off looking half-cocked, though he said reality television isn't always exactly real.

He's not complaining about it, though, because he is convinced it actually served to benefit him.

"I gave them so much fodder to allow them to portray me as a douche bag," Mitrione said. "Granted, they were poor decisions on my part, a lot of the times anyway. But what that did is, it got me on the main card. It got my name out there. People know me and they're talking about me. Now, it's time for me to show them I'm a fighter. I get it.

"This is my time now to capitalize on the three months of suck. This is my 15 minutes to make people go, 'This kid is good,' and 'You know, this guy isn't the big [expletive] he seemed to be.' "

Mitrione said watching the season on Spike was "stressful" because of the impact it had on his family.

"Me, I couldn't care less how I was [portrayed] because I've always been an [expletive]," Mitrione. "It doesn't bother me. I can accept the repercussions for my actions. I'm fine with it, but for my family to have to watch it and me to have to explain certain things, that was hard. They showed things out of context or they took the joke out of it and that was the part that was stressful."

One of the stresses he faced during the filming was that he learned MMA conditioning is vastly different than football. A series of fighters had poor conditioning in their fights and weren't able to last more than 40 seconds or so before they started gasping for air.

Mitrione, who came out strong in his opening-round fight against Junk, was one of them. He said the reason is simpler than you might think.

"My conditioning was poor in that fight; it was terrible," Mitrione said. "What it was, really, was more inexperience than conditioning. That was my third real fight and my first fight that went over a minute and 10 seconds.

"I didn't understand the pacing and the tempo. It's something I've had to learn over the past six months and really focus on. It was a great learning experience for me. Even in football, I've never been that tired before."

Mitrione insists he's corrected the problem and will prove it on Saturday when he meets Jones, another former defensive lineman from the NFL. Jones was one of the season's sensations with his great jiu-jitsu, but he was knocked cold in the semifinals by Brendan Schaub.

Mitrione said Jones has shown weakness with his chin before and doesn't believe Jones is a threat while they're standing.

"I don't think he can compete with me on his feet," Mitrione said. "Once you have no chin, you'll never get a chin. His lights have been put out a couple of times. That's definitely going to bother him and he knows I'm a puncher. I think everyone on the planet knows I'm a puncher. If I can get around you, I'm going to punch you in the face. That's what I'm going to do.

"He's going to try to take away as much space as possible. The thing I've worked on the past couple of months has been my takedown defense and my submission defense and my scrambling ability. That situation has gotten better. I have confidence I know how to defend that now. I feel I'm going to touch his chin and I believe that once I do, he's going to sleep."