A Matt Mitrione-Roy Nelson Rematch 5 Years In The Making

A little over five years ago, Matt Mitrione was training for a fight with Phil DeFries on the UFC’s annual year-end pay-per-view when he was approached with a bigger fight two weeks earlier: “Big Country” Roy Nelson in the finale of the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter. Shane Carwin, just one fight removed from a shot at then-heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, had coached opposite Nelson on the reality show, but he went down with an injury. Mitrione stepped up, but it didn’t go well for him: “Big Country” knocked him out just inside of three minutes. It was the first time that the former NFLer had been stopped in a fight.

He gets a chance at retribution this Friday night, as he faces Nelson again, this time in the first round of Bellator MMA’s ongoing heavyweight title tournament. Then, Mitrione was a greenhorn coming off of his first loss. Now, he’s riding a three fight winning streak, coming off of the biggest win of his career, a first round knockout of consensus all-time top heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.

“In my opinion, it’s not really a rematch,” Mitrione told FIGHT SPORTS.

“I think that I’ve grown so much. That was my sixth fight I’ve ever had, I think I’ve had 12 fights since then. I’ve learned lightyears since where I was back then. And hell, even now, I’m willing to bet that Roy Nelson had more fights than I have right now when he fought me 12 fights ago.”

That’s a safe bet, because he’s right: Mitrione has had 17 pro fights, while Nelson had 24 going into their first bout in December 2012.

He’s certainly grown as a fighter since then: The 2012 version of Mitrione would not have beaten even an aged Fedor. But he doesn’t think that the momentum of the win streak and toppling the GOAT is going to propel him past Nelson this Friday. “I don’t really believe in momentum,” he said. “I go out and fight the same way all the time, momentum be damned. I just out there and scrap, I don’t know how to fight safe. I go out there in work. I fight smart for my ability, I just need to go out there and do what I do.”

While Mitrione sees his improved skill-set winning him the fight, Nelson thinks something else more clearly distinguishes it from the 2012 matchup.

“I think the only difference between the two fights is Matt knows how hard I hit now,” he told FIGHT SPORTS. “That’s about it. ‘Cause Matt didn’t think I hit hard, and afterwards he goes ‘I’ve never been hit so hard in my life!’ I think it’s just that old man muscle.”

Contrary to Mitrione’s boasts about never “fighting safe,” Nelson expects his foe to spend the fight “playing tag and run,” avoiding back and forth exchanges.

While not looking past Mitrione, Nelson is excited about being part of the tournament, especially with the heavyweight title being awarded to the winner. “It points out the roadmap to get to the belt,” he explained. “There’s not false promises. It’s not ‘Hey, you win three fights, you get the next title shot.’ It’s not ‘Hey, you win one more fight…’ or ‘Hey, you know what? You’re popular, we’re gonna let you fight for the title.’ I like that. You just gotta win your fights, do what you gotta do, and win your belt.”

While Nelson seems 100% set on winning and the belt, his opponent is acutely aware of the entertainment aspects of fighting, especially given his high risk style. Though it may be tough to top Mitrione’s last fight, which saw a double knockdown—one of few in major league MMA history, if not the first—en route to his win, he’s more than willing to put on  a show.

“It was nuts,” he said. “Like the Travis Brown thing with my [swollen] eye. People will come up to me now…and say ‘the only thing I know about MMA is the guy with the eye that one time. That happened to be me! I hear that more often than you’d ever guess. And with the Fedor thing, the double knockdown, I just have that kind of thing, where memorable things happen to me.”

To find out if we’re getting another moment like that, you’re going to have to watch Bellator 194 this Friday night at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on The Paramount Network.




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