March 18, 2016

Matt Mitrione: Who Should He Face In His Bellator Debut?

By Adam Martin

Earlier this week, Bellator MMA announced it inked former NFL player and UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione to a four-fight contract. The UFC actually had the chance to match the offer, reported to be in the six-figure-per-fight range, but chose not to, making Mitrione the latest big free agent signing for Bellator MMA in recent weeks, following in the footsteps of Benson Henderson and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Thought never able to break through into the top 10 in the UFC, Mitrione was always known for putting on exciting fights win-or-lose, and his addition strengthens Bellator’s heavyweight roster. The Blackzilians-trained fighter does not have a fight booked yet, but he’s already indicated to Bellator president Scott Coker and matchmaker Rich Chou that he’d like to fight as soon as possible. With that being said, here are five fights that make sense for “Meathead’s” first fight outside the Octagon:

Cheick Kongo

The most likely opponent for Mitrione in his Bellator debut is Kongo. The two fought back at UFC 137, with Mitrione getting grinded on and losing a decision, but much has changed since then. Kongo is now over 40 years old and his chin has deteriorated. Mitrione hits just as hard as ever and he has improved his takedown defense. If Mitrione can stop Kongo’s takedowns and keep this fight in his wheelhouse, he will have a good chance to avenge the first loss of his career.

Vitaly Minakov

Minakov is the Bellator MMA heavyweight champion, but he hasn’t fought for the promotion in two years since his first (and only) title defense over Kongo. Since then, he has fought three more times for the Fight Nights promotion in Russia, winning all three fights via stoppage. Minakov is one of the best heavyweights in the world not in the UFC, but it remains unclear whether he has any interest in fighting with Bellator ever again. If he does want to return to the promotion to defend his belt though, a fight against Mitrione would be just about the highest-quality heavyweight bout Bellator could put on for the fans.

James Thompson

Thompson has lost two straight fights via knockout, but the guy is known for exciting fights, and considering Mitrione is coming off of a loss in the UFC to Travis Browne, Bellator may want to rebuild his stock by having him fight Thompson. On paper this looks like exactly the type of matchup where Mitrione could show off his vicious KO power, but at the same time Thompson has heavy hands himself. This would make for an exciting fight for the fans, albeit one that likely wouldn’t last past a single round.

Bobby Lashley

Lashley has won four straight fights in Bellator via stoppage and it’s time to give him a step up. Mitrione would be an interesting fight because if Lashley is able to use his wrestling, he could get Mitrione on the mat and possibly submit him, but at the same time he has poor striking and a somewhat questionable chin, making a standup fight potentially exciting for the fans. Considering both men are good on the mic and have charisma, Bellator would have no problem selling this matchup.

Tony Johnson

This one is only last on the list because Mitrione has already rejected the matchup on Twitter, telling Johnson that he "gets out dudes pregnant." Johnson is on a winning streak in Bellator but he’s extremely dull to watch, and while it makes sense for Mitrione to fight a mid-tier guy like Johnson for his first Bellator fight, stylistically the promotion probably doesn’t want to take a chance on Mitrione getting clinched against the fence and losing a plodding decision.