Matt Mitrione is ready to move on from cage-fighting.
The veteran heavyweight announced Wednesday on The MMA Hour that he is likely to be done competing in MMA as he prepares for his mixed rules fight with Alexander Flores at Saturday’s Triller’s Triad Combat event, which goes down this Saturday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on FITE pay-per-view.
Triad Combat sees its fighters — including headliners Frank Mir and Kubrat Pulev — competing with a specialized boxing rule set that also allows for clinch attacks, standing hammerfists, and spinning backfists among other non-traditional boxing techniques. Mitrione is looking forward to participating in a different combat sport after feeling let down by some of the rules and regulations of MMA.
“I would venture to say I’m done with MMA,” Mitrione said. “Probably, who knows, I might really love [Triad Combat]. Still, some people might call me ignorant for saying this, but I don’t feel that I have been outperformed in standup. My last three TKO [losses], [Sergei] Kharitonov — the one headbutt and the other headbutt — Tyrell [Fortune] the second one, and those are literally the first contacts of the fight. So I feel like if I’m gonna retire and be done, then I want to be outperformed. I want to be have somebody that came in there and smoked me and whupped my ass at what I’m strong at.
“Then that tells me, ‘OK, you’re done. It’s past your time.’ But I think in having situations, fights that in my perspective should be overturned from a loss to a no contest, because the first impact of the fights is headbutts and those are illegal.
“I feel like that should be a situation in which I should be protected as a fighter. And if I’m not, which I wasn’t — and who knows what the hell [Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation President Mike] Mazzulli is doing in Connecticut — so because of that and since he didn’t overturn them, then I have no choice but to leave the sport of MMA, because I don’t trust the commissioner or the referee or whoever the governing body is going to be to make the right decision. And I can’t take unnecessary beatings because a fight should have been stopped.”
Mitrione is particularly upset about his most recent loss to Fortune at Bellator 262 in July, a fight that saw Mitrione submit to strikes in under two minutes after being rocked by a clash of heads. He blamed referee Dan Miragliotta for not acknowledging the headbutt and said he tapped out of self-preservation.
The 12-year veteran proposed a red flag system in which corners would be able to throw a flag to make a referee aware of unseen fouls, with an unsuccessful challenge perhaps leading to a loss of a point. However, even if rule changes were to be made in MMA, there are other issues Mitrione has with the business.
“It was a very good life and I enjoyed it, but I was never a fan of how fickle the fan base was at times, Mitrione said. “There are some that are really educated and I think there are the masses that are just so flippantly ignorant, they don’t care to learn nuance. I think that that’s something that always kind of bothered me about it.
“Like, I like grappling. I wrestled because it was part of the sport. I don’t like wrestling, I don’t like people that can steal rounds. I like the aggression that is rewarded. I don’t like passivity being rewarded in a fight sport. But it’s always been that way. Also, where I lived it in Indiana, I had to travel, had to be away from my family, had to do so much. I think that was a very strong mix of what I didn’t like, that blended in financially with the freedom that I was able to have because of the sport.”
Mitrione stressed that his family comes first, adding that his perspective on fighting was changed entirely after he fought Fedor Emelianenko in 2017. “The Last Emperor” fell to Mitrione in just 74 seconds and afterwards, he signed Mitrione’s gloves for him. Mitrione says it’s the only piece of his sports memorabilia from his own athletic career that he’s ever kept.
The item doesn’t just hold sentimental value for Mitrione though. His fight with Emelianenko opened his eyes as to his value and it taught him that he could play hardball with Bellator.
“I don’t have many good feelings towards [Bellator] at all,” Mitrione said. “I made my financial life, I had leverage because I did what I had to do. I think that they made several ideas, like the heavyweight tournament — I think the heavyweight tournament was a joke. It wasn’t a heavyweight tournament, it was a superfight tournament. Our biggest eight names that we have, that’s what I thought it was. That’s why I told them I think that’s stupid, I don’t want to do it. I just knocked out Fedor in 71 seconds in Madison Square Garden, I’m 3-0 with three knockouts. Now you want me to take three steps backwards and fight arguably one of the most durable heavyweights in the game, Roy Nelson, to be first?
“On top of that, why are you inviting Chael [Sonnen], who’s a wrestler, Bader, who’s a wrestler, Mo [Lawal], who’s a wrestler? Why are you inviting three light heavyweight wrestlers, who are all extremely accomplished, against heavyweights? That doesn’t make sense to me. There’s a completely different skill set at heavyweight versus that choice at that time, so I held out. I was like, ‘No, I’m not gonna do it, it’s stupid.’ Put me on the shelf or I’ll fight Cheick Kongo for the title that nobody really has, then once I beat Kongo then I’ll fight whoever wins the ‘heavyweight’ tournament and then I’ll do that, that’s no problem at all. They didn’t like that idea either, so I held out until they paid me more and that was leverage. That’s what I needed. Then everything got modified from there.”
"I don't have many good feelings toward [Bellator] at all."@mattmitrione tells @arielhelwani Bellator's heavyweight tournament "was a joke" #TheMMAHour— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) November 24, 2021
▶️ https://t.co/zgCiMvR4XY pic.twitter.com/Iy1q6oIL51
Mitrione ended up defeating Nelson by decision in the first round of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix, then losing to eventual winner Ryan Bader in the semifinals. He has not won a fight since beating Nelson in February 2018.
Though Mitrione sounds thrilled with the possibilities that Triad Combat might hold for him, he’s not making a long-term commitment to Triller yet nor is he completely shutting the door on MMA. Outside of fighting, his plan is to pursue a career as a firefighter, starting by enrolling in the EMT program at his alma mater Purdue University.
“Maybe this is a great fight for me,” Mitrione said. “Maybe it’s a great opportunity. I might get my ass kicked, who knows?
“That’s all I wanted, a one-fight deal. Financially, I’m fine financially. I’m not really tripping about it. I’m in the process of actually getting a career, but I might still keep fighting. I’m still training, but I look forward to whatever life brings me, but I know that my wife and my kids just enjoy me being home, they enjoy the lifestyle that we have and I don’t feel like I need to prove anything to anybody anymore. I feel happy in my life, but like I said, I’m also addicted to competition.”
Should Mitrione retire from MMA, he would end his pro career with a 13-9 (1 NC) record that began in the UFC after being signed off of The Ultimate Fighter 10. He competed solely for the UFC and Bellator and holds notable wins over Emelianenko, Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, Derrick Lewis, and Kimbo Slice, among others.