Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Every fighter handles their first loss differently. Some fall victim to their own splintered expectations and never recover. Others see it only as an inevitable step towards their ultimate goal.
Matt Mitrione falls in the latter category.
So when Mitrione's run to title contention crashed and burned with an uninspired decision loss to Cheick Kongo at UFC 137, he decided it was time to climb out of the spotlight, get back in the gym and reassess his game.
"I lost that fight because I didn't know how to fight a fight like that," Mitrione admitted on Monday's The MMA Hour. "... I had to get a loss under my belt to find out things like that, to really change up my training."
"I didn't now how to engage somebody that didn't want to engage, without making myself vulnerable and over-committing to something. So that's something that Chris Lytle and I went back to the drawing board, and he taught me how to do that, and I think that really made a pretty substantial difference. I feel much more confident. If I ever have a fight like that again, I'll be able to handle that and address it pretty aggressively."
Though the time off wasn't exactly filled with flowers and sunshine. Last October's training camp left Mitrione with a slew of injuries that negated his ability to kick or shoot in for takedowns against Kongo.
Only now, after a pair of surgeries to repair a sports hernia and bone chips in his elbow, does Mitrione say he feels back at full strength.
"I am completely on the mend," Mitrione announced rather excitedly. "I'm at to the point today where I was wrestling with Coach Rashad (Evans) -- funny I still call him Coach -- I was wrestling with Coach Rashad today and we were getting down."
That Mitrione and Evans are still training partners is surprising to many outside observers. The pair first met on the set of The Ultimate Fighter 10, where the specter of Kimbo Slice overshadowed a season that also introduced fellow UFC mainstays Roy Nelson and Brendan Schaub.
Both men had their rough patches on the show, whether it was "Meathead's" snitching or his bizarre head games, but their relationship has since grown stronger, and tucked away at Florida's Blackzilian camp, the two have become remarkably fast friends.
"You know man, Rashad and I are actually really cool," Mitrione revealed. "I think we have a lot of parallels in our lives, and I think that he and I both know that and we have a lot of mutual respect for each other."
Even though Evans' sole loss came in a championship bout, he can still relate to the emotion of unbeaten record gone wrong. So when Mitrione came looking for a new camp to split his time with, it only felt natural to rejoin his old coach in Boca Raton.
The switch has already done wonders for Mitrione's growth, and as he runs down a list of training partners he describes as "phenomenal," it's easy to hear the confidence oozing through his words. He still seems to regret his meeting with Kongo, but only to the degree one would regret a mishandled dinner decision.
"The loss, it sucked. I still feel like I didn't get beaten at all in that fight, I just feel like I lost it, via decision," he uneasily explained. "So as a result, I'm ready for whoever comes my way."
And who that is, isn't a secret to Mitrione. The fighter already knows his next opponent, and while he was unable to reveal any names, he seemed extremely happy with the match-up.
"I cannot wait. Cannot wait," Mitrione raved. "It's a fight I've wanted for a long time. I think it's a great match-up. I think the fans will really be happy with it."
Even at the age of 33, Mitrione considers himself to be "green" when it comes to MMA. But with naturally heavy hands, NFL pedigree and potential through the roof, the man they call "Meathead" is finally ready to start phase two of his UFC career.
"I'm excited, man," he declared. "I'm really happy I got my fight. I'm really, really happy to get my life back in order, to start scrapping again and get back into the winning ways."
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