Injuries halted Matt Mitrione’s NFL career earlier than he would have liked, but that didn’t stop the competitive fires from burning inside him.
An invitation to fight from a good friend led Mitrione to the gym and though the fight never materialized, an interest in MMA was born.
Now, the former New York Giant is one of 16 heavyweights set to enter our households every Wednesday night on Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Last week, the always entertaining Mitrione took the time to answer questions about everything from how he got into MMA and what it was like living in The Ultimate Fighter house, to the heat between this season’s coaches and Kimbo’s cooking skills.
As a former NFL guy, what drew you to Mixed Martial Arts?
A good friend of mine plays baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies, Jayson Werth. We’re from the same hometown. He called me up and asked me if I wanted to fight in some fights he was putting on in our hometown of Springfield, Illinois.
Jason loves our product – I own a sports nutrition company called EDEN, E for engineered, D for designed, N for Nutrition – and so Werth’s tried us out and he loved it, so he wrote a testimonial.
As a result of him writing the testimonial, I told him I would do a favor for him if he ever needed one. Well, he called in that solid and asked me to go ahead and fight in this show that he was going to put on in October of last year.
Well, I had never trained officially for MMA, but that ended up being the fateful call that got me into MMA.
Jayson Werth, former Toronto Blue Jay, so that’s two Canadian ties for you as we were talking about earlier.
That’s right, that’s right. I’m referencing Canada as much as I can here, brother.
We’re seeing a big influx of former football players right now. What is it about MMA that translates to yourself and fellow football players as an avenue post-football?
That’s a very good question.
MMA allows us, and by us I mean ex-athletes, to have an outlet for our aggression and football is a perfect outlet for that. But once that’s gone, once that’s taken away from you, the feeling of satisfaction that comes from dominating another human being in a physical fashion is gone and completely taken away from you and there is no middle ground.
There is nothing you can do unless you go get in a bar fight, but then you’re going to jail. So there is nothing there and I think that’s why MMA is an attractive draw for ex-ballplayers and people with a physical background. It applies to wrestlers too, man. Wrestlers are on a direct pipeline to MMA now.
You’re sort of the freshest and newest to the sport of the TUF cast members this season, having not yet had your first professional fight. Do you think being so new to the sport gives you any kind of advantage, as you haven’t gotten set in your ways and are more willing to learn and listen?
I agree 100% with that actually. I think it really works to my benefit to be so green because I really don’t have any preconceived notions about what the best way to sprawl is, what the best way to counter a jab is, how to parry, you know?
Growing up and fighting I thought I knew that stuff, but I don’t know what is “the best way to get it done.” I’m still really fresh to that and I learn.
For example, I’m training at Overtime MMA right now, which is like a wrestling and MMA factory right now. I walk in there right now and it’s “okay, what you’re doing right now is completely wrong” and they’re going to modify my wrestling, my shots, my takedown defense, my everything and my answer is “Okay, cool, let’s get it done” because I’m not engrained on all that stuff.
Like you said, I’m still wet behind the ears and if you say change it, I respect your authority than great, change it up, make me better.
There were times on the show where we had to start on our knees. We had a guy on my team who is pretty good in [jiu jitsu] and this guy was like, “No, I’m not going to do that. That doesn’t make any sense.”
That was the first time I had ever seen someone be like, “No, I’m not going to do that.” I’ll never have a moment like that because I don’t know any better. If you tell me to get on my knees, I say okay. You tell me to start upside down, I say okay.
One moment people have talked about a little in regards to you is a time when you’re sitting next to Roy Nelson and asking him who he is. That really shows just how new you are to this sport as most fans know who Roy is from his time in the IFL and fighting Andrei Arlovski, yet here you are with no real idea who “Big Country” is.
(Laughs) I don’t know how any of these guys fight. I don’t even know how Kimbo fights. I’ve only seen him fight on YouTube once, maybe twice. I have no idea what people are doing.
It’s funny because Roy was so cool, because he didn’t act like “this kid knows who I am” and kind of later on I was like “Its Roy, right? Nice to meet you” and he was totally cool with it.
Later on in the show I asked him, “Hey man. Did you think I was bullshittin’ you a little bit when I didn’t know who you were?” and he was like, “A little bit, especially with a fighter because they usually know who I am, know my pedigree” and I thought it was funny because he thought I was bullshitting him, but to be totally honest I wasn’t.
Now that the show is done and your time in the house has passed, give us your thoughts on some of the guys in the house. We’ll start with “Big Country.”
Like I said, I had no preconceived notions going into this and I thought Roy, I still think Roy is cool as a fan, dude.
He’s a really good dude, he understands the business of MMA extremely well. It’s funny, he’s built like a panda. On the show, you’re hear us call him “The Jiu Jitsu Panda,” everyone calls him Panda and he doesn’t get upset.
He was just like, “You guys can call me what you want, but my name is Big Country.” But he was just cool.
And Kimbo? Kimbo is cool as a fan too, brah. Just from hearing things about him, it sounds bad, but I kind of thought he was gonna be a bum, you know? He wasn’t going to be that cool. But dude, Kimbo is cool as a fan. He’s just a real cool cat and he’s approachable and he’s a damn good cook.
He can make a barbecue sauce, and whether it’s barbecue base or mustard base or whatever base, the guy is an animal in there. Yeah, he is really cool.
I think there are a couple people who I wouldn’t have gotten along with outside the show and being on the show kind of magnified that a little bit, but for the most part, everybody was really cool.
Honestly man, I’m a really aggressive personality, so there is probably going to be a lot more people saying, “I might have gotten along with him on the show, but outside of the show, I wouldn’t have gotten along with him” and they’re referring to me. I would probably agree with that. I couldn’t stand myself on the show much longer anyways.
It’s funny, from your interview with MMA Junkie, Chris Lytle, a guy you trained with, jokes about that side of you, your attitude and personality, saying people are either going to like you right away or not at all. Is that something that has an impact on you moving into this business or is it just about business and putting in the work to help you move forward in your career?
Everybody wants to be liked, and if you’re saying otherwise, you’re lying.
Honestly, I’d rather be loved or hated than forgotten about, so I don’t mind my own personality coming out and having completely passionate, adoring fans and people that would rather punch me in the face. As long as I’m not forgotten and I was being myself, then I don’t really mind.
But the most important thing is that if you can feel some way about me, I’m still fighting. Otherwise, I won’t be fighting and you won’t care one way about me. As long as I’m fighting and as long as I’m winning, I don’t really care how you feel about me.
One last thing from the MMA Junkie interview that is getting a little attention online is your quote about not being interested in moving back into the house for anything less than half a million dollars.
Some people are upset about it, thinking it’s an egotistical statement. I read it as you trying to make a point about how difficult living in that house and that situation of leaving everything you know behind is. Just how crazy is it?
That’s a great question. I guess I can understand how some people viewed it as egotistical or arrogant, but I didn’t mean it that way. I meant it as “Wow, that house sucked, bro,” so you’re right; the way you took it was the way it was meant to be taken.
It was hard, man and honestly, anybody who is saying it’s not…
For example, I would think that is was hard for everybody, but if you’re a parent it was more difficult and if you had your coaching staff there, like Brendan Schaub and James McSweeney had Coach Rashad and Greg Jackson and guys they are used to being around so it’s almost like being in your own training camp, just in a different location, so I think that might make it easier.
But if you’re there on your own like the majority of us were, that sucks man. Everybody says “I would do it in a heartbeat” and you’re damn right, I did it in a heartbeat and would have done it in any way, shape or form. But after I’ve done it? That sucks, bro.
I don’t even think jail would be that difficult. At least jail there is some kind of distraction, you’ve got TV or radio
You can watch TV in jail but you can’t watch TV in the Ultimate Fighter House?
You can’t watch TV, can’t listen to the radio, can’t read books, can’t read a Bible; I mean there is nothing. There is zero forms of media. There was so little allowed in that house that we actually made playing cards out of paper plates, bro.
We made playing cards out of paper plates because they wouldn’t let stuff into the house. What the hell are we gonna do? Panda (Roy Nelson) actually made a chess board out of tape and glasses so people could play chess because there was nothing to do in that house. He made the chess board on the table.
You mentioned the coaches there real quick. Is the heat between Rashad and Rampage legitimate? Do they really just want to get at each other that bad?
Who Rampage and Rashad? Yeah, dude, they don’t like each other. That’s a legit beef. They don’t like each other one bit.
It’s funny because they got at each other so much that it would actually get kind of irritating, but whenever they were around each other, they were in each other’s face bickering, talking shit. They’re just bumpin’ their gums incessantly.
If they’re around each other, they need to be broken up. I mean, they can’t even be around each other without trying to fight each other. There was actually a point where I was like, “Dude, just strap on a pair of 18’s and go bang it out.”
So is the extra time off now that Rampage is filming A-Team just going to add fuel to the fire. Is Rashad just going to get more time to stew over this?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know man because this show is going to pour all the gasoline all over this thing again. They’re gonna play every situation that was ever on there, so by the end of the show, people are going to be amping those two up and they were ready to throw shots quick.
As we talked about earlier (when we set this interview up), you ‘re a former teammate of Canadian Jesse Palmer when you were with the Giants, and you told me how much you loved your time up here in Canada.
We’ve got the Jason Werth tie in, so since we don’t have any Canadians on the show, this is a chance to become Canada’s contestant on Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Why should Canada back Matt Mitrione? Give us the sales pitch.
I would take more pride in being Canada’s adopted son for this show than I could even express. I’ll tell you why Canadians should root for me on this show:
When I was up there, I’ve never been shown hospitality like was shown to us when I was up there. Canadians are awesome. We were up there for Jesse Palmer’s golf event; it was a great experience for me. I’m a nobody in the NFL, another guy that went with me is a nobody in the NFL and Jesse was the only name and they treated us like royalty.
We got hammered, rowdy drunk for like three or four days, everybody was as drunk as we were, we ate some kind of French fries with cheese and gravy on it (note: it’s called poutine, people and it’s awesome!) which is probably how I got to 315 pounds, and it was just phenomenal.
I’ll tell you this: I’ve been to two UFC fights that GSP has fought in and I’ve never seen anyplace follow a fighter like Canada follows GSP. No matter where it is, how many Canadians are there? Canadians love their fighters and I would love to be their adoptive son.
I’ll even work on my Canadian accent. I’ll start saying aboot and I’ll start playing hockey if that’s what it takes.
Well I appreciate you doing this. Any shoutouts and thanks before we wrap it up?
My nutrition company is EDEN and the website is http://www.whatsyoureden.com/ and every athlete can take us. If anybody is interested in sports nutrition, here’s what I’m going to do. You can call me. My cell phone number is 414.243.6640.
Parents, athletes, if you have a question about nutrition, if I can’t answer it, we’ve got somebody who can.
A huge thanks to the guys at Overtime MMA; they’ve really helped me out a lot in getting me ready for the show and since I’ve been home. Check out their website.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me too. Thanks for this.