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Matt Mitrione didn’t go into “The Ultimate Fighter 10” with high expectations.
After a solid collegiate football career with the Purdue Boilermakers that saw him start 35 consecutive games on the defensive line, Mitrione had an abbreviated tenure in the NFL that included nine games with the New York Giants and brief stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings before washing out of the league in 2005.
Shortly thereafter, “Meathead” was in the process of launching a sports nutrition company when he was contacted by Philadelphia Phillies star Jayson Werth regarding an appearance on an amateur mixed martial arts show. Up to that point, Mitrione’s only experience in combat sports was a sort of Toughman-style competition during his redshirt year at Purdue. That experience taught him, as he told Big Blue View in 2017, that “I really had no desire to get punched in the face for a living.”
However, Werth was a proponent of his product, so he agreed to fight. Although an injury prevented Mitrione from competing on the card, he continued to train MMA. That ultimately opened up an avenue to “The Ultimate Fighter 10,” which focused on heavyweights and drew massive ratings thanks to the presence of YouTube brawling sensation Kimbo Slice. Mitrione, meanwhile, just wanted to raise the profile of his business.
“I went on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ literally because I owned a sports nutrition company and it was such good promotion and publicity for it that I could never afford to pay for. I went on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ just to promote my supplement company, not to be a fighter, not to do anything else,” Mitrione told Sherdog.com.
“It ended up being a career that was three times longer than my NFL career. I never expected it. Everything I’ve got, I quite literally owe to the sport. And I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be happier with what has happened in my life.”
The entirety of Mitrione’s professional tenure has taken place in either the UFC or Bellator MMA, the two largest organizations in the sport. But back then, the former defensive tackle went into the show with no fighting experience other than his brief foray into Toughman as a Boilermaker freshman.
“I was scared. I didn’t want to do it because I had never fought anybody like that,” Mitrione said. “I didn’t know anything. My fight was against Scott Junk. And Scott Junk had already been in the UFC, had already been in K-1 and nobody wanted to fight Junk. Nobody did, because he already such a reputation of being a brawler and a badass standup guy.”
Mitrione would defeat Junk by majority decision before falling to James McSweeney in the show’s quarterfinals. His true Octagon debut was a knockout of fellow former NFL-er Marcus Jones at the “TUF 10” finale, and suddenly, one fight later he was squaring off with Slice on a pay-per-view main card.
“The next thing I know I’m fighting Kimbo and nothing was the same after that,” he said. “It was just totally different. My whole life changed just like that.”
Mitrione stopped Slice in the second round at UFC 113 and went on to a career that has included wins over the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga, Shawn Jordan, Derrick Lewis and Roy Nelson. Perhaps most notably, he has bested a pair of icons at opposite ends of the MMA spectrum in Slice and Fedor Emelianenko. Not bad for a guy who just wanted to sell protein shakes.
Today, Mitrione is still going strong in Bellator, and even at 41 years old, he has no designs on slowing down.
“I’ll be honest with you, I feel like I’m a rather spry old man,” he said. “I feel that as long as I want to compete and my body holds up, then I’ll do it. I feel that I’m happy in my life, I’m happy doing what I do, I’m happy with the lifestyle that my career provides. I feel like I’m still at the top of my game. I’m down for whatever. I’m a name that stays on the marquee. I’ve been in this industry and the game for 11 years, man.
“I was on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ in 2009, and we recorded in May. Literally 11 years ago. I’ve been here a long time, a whole lot longer than most other people have. I’m still having a damn good time doing it. It forces me to stay in shape. It lets me be competitive and athletic. I view the sport of mixed martial arts as physical chess. I enjoy it, I get a hell of a kick out of it, and I’m good at it.”