Matt Mitrione was among the first group of fighters to be directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Ultimate Fighter 10” veteran agreed to replace Josh Barnett on short notice at Bellator 241, where he was scheduled to square off against Ronny Markes in a featured bout on March 13. Mitrione, like everyone else on the card, weighed in one day prior to the event as the promotion planned to proceed with fights in an empty venue at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. However, as the serious nature of the COVID-19 outbreak began to take hold, Bellator elected to cancel the event entirely on the day it was scheduled to take place.
Mitrione believes the organization made the best decision possible in light of difficult circumstances.
“It wasn’t really that complicated. Things happen. We’re adults and we have to deal with them,” Mitrione told Sherdog.com. “There were a lot more questions than answers at that time regarding the pandemic and Wuhan and everything else. It was complicated for sure. I think Bellator handled it really well. They got feedback from us, they kept us in the loop and I think it paid its dividends. They did the right thing. I think they showed, as they always do, that they do things with as much class and forethought as possible.”
That included paying all fighters associated with the event. As time has passed, Bellator has continued to opt for a cautious approach to the pandemic, postponing all scheduled events through June. While Bellator president Scott Coker recently revealed a tentative plan to return to action in July in a closed environment in space provided by Paramount or CBS, Mitrione says he hasn’t been in direct contact with the promotion regarding any upcoming events.
“I have not heard a thing,” Mitrione said. “But I do know that they are aware that when they call me, I say yes. I always answer the phone. If that’s what they need … cool. You pay me to do it, so let’s go ahead and get weird. I’m down for the cause, and they know that.”
As most of the country has adopted some short of shelter-in-place order or social distancing measure to help battle the pandemic, Mitrione has made the best of the experience. He’s been spending plenty of quality time with his kids, and he recently finished an addition to his home. When it comes to training, “Meathead” works out with UFC veteran Chris Lytle and the rest of the Team Two Ton crew in Indianapolis. He also expects to eventually be able to return to Florida and hone his craft at Hard Knocks 365 once the country opens up.
“I’m still getting it in on a regular basis,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mitrione believes the time has drawn near for Bellator fighters who are willing to assume some risk to be able to compete. Thus far, Bellator has taken a much different route than the UFC, which is rolling out a series of events beginning on May 9 in hopes of getting back on a regular schedule. The Dana White-led promotion was planning to resume operations even sooner, but an April 18 card was ultimately shut down but ESPN and Disney executives.
That’s been my thought that Bellator handled it really well,” said Mitrione, who began his MMA career with a 14-bout UFC stint. “… But now I think it’s a time for us to be like, ‘If you’re good with fighting right now, then sign your name on the dotted line and we’re gonna start making some matchups. Let’s go ahead and start getting after it.’ I think it’s our decision to fight or not. If you say no, then cool, there’s no repercussions to you.
“More than anything else, the masses that are stuck at home, I think we need sports. Sports are real life reality television. It’s drama. It’s unpredictable. It’s not pre-determined. It’s something that we all can get lost in,” he continued. “And I think that’s in the fabric of the world, not just America. I think we need that.”
If Bellator were to get back to business a little bit earlier than anticipated, Mitrione would be one of the first to sign up to fight.
“I think that we as entertainers, because that’s primarily what we are, I think we need to step up and say, ‘Sign my name on the list, I’m down to go,’” he said. “If they were to call me and say, ‘Hey look, we’re gonna have fights all throughout the month of June, I’d say cool, let me fight on the first weekend of June and let me fight again on the last weekend of June.’ My name stays on the marquee for a reason. I’m exciting and I’m a personality. But more than a winner and a loser, I’m an entertainer. Get me out there and let’s do what I get paid to do.”