At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Matt Mitrione is a force in any mixed martial arts competition, whether in the Ultimate Fighting Championship or Bellator MMA. “Meathead” may seem like a happy-go-lucky kind of guy -- he usually sings along to his entrance music -- but he gets down to business when the bell rings. Mitrione took a majority decision from Roy Nelson at Bellator 194 on Feb. 16, advancing to the 2018 Bellator heavyweight grand prix semifinals.
While Mitrione awaits his next opponent in his bid to capture the vacant Bellator heavyweight crown, here are five things you might not know about him:
1. He is an athlete at heart.
Born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised in nearby Springfield, Mitrione was hyperactive when he was a child. Shotokan karate kept him busy, while good genes allowed him to become a multi-sport athlete during his stay at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School. Mitrione engaged in diving, track and field, swimming and football. He was recognized as an honorable mention All-American by USA Today and earned All-State honors during his senior year at Springfield Southeast High School after posting 117 tackles and recording 19 sacks. He also helped lead his team to a 12-2 record. Mitrione’s football talents led him to Purdue University, where he played with the Boilermakers as a defensive tackle. He was selected second team All-Big Ten by coaches and the media.
2. Injuries ended his football career.
Mitrione’s NFL dreams hit a snag when he injured his foot during practice his senior year at Purdue. Despite the setback, he was offered a contract as an undrafted free agent by the New York Giants in 2002. A year later, Mitrione suffered another injury to his foot in a playoff loss against the San Francisco 49ers. This led to seven surgeries and left him on crutches for more than a year. He was released by the Giants in 2004 and went on to play with the 49ers and Minnesota Vikings. Mitrione was cut by the latter before the start of the 2005 season.
3. The call to MMA came from an unlikely source.
While he admitted that he did not have any regrets about how his stint in the NFL ended, Mitrione’s MMA career started with a phone call. Close friend Jayson Werth, then an outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies, invited Mitrione to check out his mixed martial arts promotion. Mitrione soon after relocated to Indianapolis to train. Six months later, Mitrione found himself competing on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” There, he was given the nickname “Meathead” by coach and former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, who picked him second overall.
4. He credits football for providing his athletic base in MMA.
Mitrione linked his MMA techniques to the skills he gained while playing football. In one interview, he said football gave him “some practical skills and abilities” to achieve success in mixed martial arts. Footwork, a vital skill in any combat sport, was also required of him when he was a defensive lineman. As Mitrione put it, one needs “to have good footwork” to play the position. Mental toughness was another value Mitrione pointed to that enabled him to “take one play at a time.”
5. He got off to a strong start in the cage.
Mitrione won his first five fights as a professional mixed martial artist, four of them by knockout. His first victim was Marcus Jones at “The Ultimate Fighter 10,” followed by Kevin Ferguson at UFC 113, Tim Hague at UFC Fight Night 23 and Christian Morecraft at UFC Live 4. Only Joey Beltran forced Mitrione to go the distance, as “Meathead” picked up a unanimous decision at UFC 119.