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Matt Mitrione: I want to steal Fedor Emelianenko's reputation

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Matt Mitrione has as much respect for the legendary Fedor Emelianenko as anyone else.

"The Last Emperor," of course, dominated the heavyweight ranks like no one else, and while the former longtime PRIDE champion isn't the fighter he used to be at age 39, he's no doubt still on the short list of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time.

But Mitrione, who meets Emelianenko at Bellator 172 in Feb. 18 in San Jose, Calif., isn't about to get blinded by the aura of the man he's going to face.

"I'll have no problem trying to throw my fist into Fedor's face. None," the heavyweight nicknamed "Meathead" said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "That's my job, that's what I'm getting paid to do, that's why they brought us both together is because we're both exciting-ass fighters. Fedor's a huge legend and a massive name and I'm in the process of trying to make myself a legend. So I'll have no problem throwing hands on him and doing as much damage as possible to try to steal any kind of reputation he has and put it on my own."

Mitrione, who became one of Bellator's biggest-name signings when he joined the company early in the year, knows the knock on fighting Emelianenko at this stage of his career. Not only was the Russian retired for three-and-half years, but he hasn't exactly looked like his old self in his two fights since.

But Mitrione attributes this primarily to ring rust and says he isn't about to take Emelianenko lightly.

"Honestly he took a couple years off, right?" Mitrione said. "I think those are probably tuneup fights. I would expect to see the best Fedor possible when I fight him. I expect him to get back in and knock off the rust, get used to the adrenaline dump and moving around and the excitement of it. Fedor even cracked a smile on a staredown, faceoff. I think it's just getting back in the swing for him, getting used to it. I'm sure he'll be back on the grind and his murderous cabbage patch kid self again soon."

Some were surprised to hear that the Emelianenko-Mitrione matchup isn't for the Bellator heavyweight championship, a belt which has sat vacant for more than four years.

But Mitrione, for his part, isn't sweating the details, saying he trusts whichever direction Bellator CEO Scott Coker is taking things.

"I believe Mr Coker has a couple plans on what he wants to do and how he wants to do it," Coker. "The man's really good at what he does, I trust him, I don't think there's anything sideways about what he does. Whatever he wants to do I'm down for, as long as the checks don't bounce. And Viacom's checks don't bounce, son."

That's one reason for Mitrione to be happy. Thus far, things have worked out as well as he could have possibly envisioned when he signed with the company. Mitrione has won both of his Bellator fights thus far, branched into the fight commentating realm, and now has the biggest fight of his career lined up.

"They've given me a lot of freedom, they've really let my personality blossom, which I think is really cool," Mitrione said. "If anybody asks me my feeling on the UFC vs. Bellator, Bellator is really, Scott Coker is really in the process of building the brand off of building the fighters name. He wants to have people there, he wants to have fighters who have drawing power and so its never been Bellator over everybody else, it's hey, let's publicize these guys everyone is interested in who we want to put our money behind and support them ... Whereas the UFC, the UFC is the biggest thing [as opposed to] their fighters."

Mitrione says that since making the jump, there's been a steady trickle of big-name UFC fighters who have sought his counsel. But he doesn't necessarily think that what works for him would be the right fight for everyone else.

"I've had some pretty substantial names," Mitrione said. "Not many have my phone number, but they'll contact me on Twitter, on direct message, or I see them backstage and they're like, tell me about this, tell me what's going on or why you feel that way. There's interest for sure. It's just the process of no longer being enamored by the letters and do their homework. For some people, the UFC might be a better fit for them. For me, it wasn't."

While Mitrione is using the standard "every fight is my biggest fight," if you read between the lines, you sense that he knows deep down that Feb. 18 in San Jose will represent his career's defining moment.

"Every fight's the biggest fight of my career, right?" Mitrione asked. "If you lose, nobody cares about you. I would like to say that because I'm involved in it, but it will most likely be one hell of a scrap. I expect the most out of Fedor. He's a frickin legend, man. Everybody wants this opportunity. This is the reason why I left, for reasons like this."

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