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Matt Mitrione's gig with Bellator kickboxing had nothing to do with Bellator MMA

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Matt Mitrione was a free-agent fighter over the winter, in talks with the UFC and Bellator MMA. Without a contract and exploring all his options, Mitrione was put in touch with Reed Bergman of Playbook, Inc., by former NFL teammate Jesse Palmer.

Bergman is a former agent who now helps athletes land television broadcast jobs, among other things. He has worked with Palmer and Michael Strahan, another friend of Mitrione and the co-host of the massively popular morning show "Live with Kelly and Michael."

Not long after Mitrione and Bergman were in contact, Playbook, Inc., reached out to Mitrione about an audition in New York City. It ended up, ironically, being for the color commentator role for the new Bellator Kickboxing. Mitrione's Bellator MMA negotiations had nothing to do with this gig.

"I could be wrong, but I didn't even think the left hand talked to the right hand to know that I was auditioning," Mitrione told MMA Fighting at a recent Bellator media day.

Mitrione knocked the audition out of the park and landed the job. There was just one problem. He couldn't be a broadcaster for Bellator while still fighting for the UFC. Luckily for Mitrione, everything worked out perfectly. Bellator MMA offered him more money and he signed a contract with the mixed martial arts promotion. Now, he's a Bellator MMA fighter and a Bellator Kickboxing commentator. And the two things happened separate from each other.

"It was madness," Mitrione said.

The former "Ultimate Fighter" castmate and UFC heavyweight will make his on-air debut Saturday alongside play-by-play man Sean Grande for Bellator Kickboxing's inaugural show in Turin, Italy. Mitrione is, of course, still focused on fighting. But he said he did plenty of prep for this new role.

"I'm a professional," Mitrione said. "That's why. ... I take pride in what I do. If my name is going to be on the card or affiliated with it, I'm gonna do the best damn job I can."

Mitrione said he has been picking the brain of his striking coach Henri Hooft as well as teammates Robin van Roosmalen and Tyrone Spong, all of whom have extensive kickboxing backgrounds. Mitrione came into MMA as a former football player, but has taken to the striking arts, both physically and mentally. He said he's constantly watching elite fighters, like Rico Verhoeven, Gokhan Saki and Daniel Ghita, on video.

What interests Mitrione the most heading into Bellator Kickboxing 1 is Melvin Manhoef, who meets Alexandru Negrea in the main event. Manhoef has been more of an MMA fighter in recent years and Mitrione wonders how that will affect his game plan.

"I want to see if he throws a lot of small-glove strikes versus a high guard with gloves on," Mitrione said. "If he does and it doesn't get through, does he get frustrated and start just throwing power and gassing himself out? Then you're punching for effect versus punching for landing."

Mitrione, 37, said it has always been his desire to work on television in addition to his career a professional athlete, even going back to his days in the NFL. He's not sure if he wants to be the next Strahan, but he is appreciating the opportunity to expand his horizons.

"He's a character in and of himself," Mitrione said of Strahan. "His personality, his humor, his timing -- dude, he's a legend. He's a legend in so many different ways. And if you know him and you've been around him, you understand and you're in awe. He's a personality that just commands it."

Mitrione said he was a knucklehead when he and Strahan were teammates with the New York Giants, drinking and partying too much. It's inspiration for him now, Mitrione said, that Strahan remains his friend and imparts wisdom upon him.

"I've done every stupid thing and caused myself and my family more heartache and stress then anybody could ever do outside," Mitrione said. "I feel like in spite of all the dumb shit I've ever done, I've outperformed and been successful. I feel like I can be a good example of, 'Hey, no matter how much you f*ck up, you can make something out of it.'"

Now, he has a chance to reach out to people in a different medium. Mitrione will be in Italy this week and then he's hoping to fight at Bellator MMA: Dynamite 2 on June 24in St. Louis, which is nearby Mitrione's home state of Indiana.

"I could bring a crew of rowdy idiots down there and that would be a blast," Mitrione said.

He's not a rowdy idiot anymore. He's a fighter who just got a beneficial deal through free agency and independently earned a first-time broadcasting gig on a national television network. Not so bad for someone who said he didn't go to high school, but "went to school high." It's people like that who Mitrione is trying to reach now.

"Somebody is pissing away their life, because they're fucking up now the same way I did back then," Mitrione said.

Mitrione's lesson: It doesn't have to be that way forever.

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