Not long after Matt Mitrione’s signing with Bellator MMA became official, his phone started buzzing with inquiries.
It is an interesting time to be a free agent in mixed martial arts, and for some, the grass isn’t as green as it used to be on the UFC’s side of the fence. “Meathead” joins Benson Henderson as the latest prominent fighter from the Las Vegas-based promotion to jump ship to Bellator. At the very least, it appears that there are others who are weighing their options.
“There’s quite a few,” Mitrione told Sherdog.com. “I got about 10 texts or phone calls [Monday] asking me, ‘Tell me what’s really going on. What’s happening?’ The primary conversation was sponsors... A lot of questions on that, a lot.”
Sponsorship opportunities in the UFC have been limited since the promotion’s outfitting partnership with Reebok took effect this past summer. Mitrione was one of many who took a financial hit once he was not allowed to display non-Reebok sponsors on his fight shorts or banners. While “The Ultimate Fighter 10” cast member declined to reveal the exact dollar amount lost, he did say “there were substantial dollars that were lost without my permission or without my blessing in regards to sponsorships.”
Now, Mitrione is thrilled to be in discussions to regain some of those lost earnings.
“Wingstop was a big sponsor of mine, and RAP Protein... The fact that I can have these conversations with them, it’s massive. It’s huge,” he said. “The fact I call them up and we open line of communication, that’s all I can ask for.”
Communication was also a big factor in the heavyweight’s decision to sign on the dotted line with Bellator. Mitrione feels that Scott Coker and promotion brass are simply more accessible than those in power at the UFC.
“The avenue of communication is open. If I want to talk to Scott Coker, I can talk to Scott Coker. There’s an ease of communication and maybe it’s a honeymoon period, but there’s an air of sincerity that I pick up from them that seems to be very relevant and permeates through everybody I’ve worked with,” he said. “And that’s cool. Maybe that’s a jaded [view] coming from the UFC, maybe it’s just a [breath of fresh air], I don’t know. It means a lot.”
Mitrione’s Octagon tenure ended on a sour note, with a two-fight skid punctuated by a foul-marred loss to Travis Browne at UFC Fight Night in Boston on Jan. 17. He is currently appealing to have that decision overturned, and if it goes his way, he believes it will be Browne who will be clamoring for a rematch he is unlikely to get.
“Hopefully if everything goes the way it’s intended to by the letter of the law, the loss is going to get turned over to a disqualification, which means I won,” Mitrione said. “I’ll be just fine with that if I win. And I’m sure Travis will then want a rematch, and then it will be him that will be talking because he can’t get it. So, f--k him.”
Mitrione doesn’t have a date set for his debut, but he’d like it to be as soon as possible. Otherwise, he jokingly admits that some vices can take hold.
“I don’t do well being on the shelf. Idle time is the devil’s handiwork,” he said. “For me, I sit around, I drink a couple vanilla porters and l’ll find myself doing that a couple times during the week. I’m a guy who works well with a carrot. Give me a carrot, let me work and I won’t go to grappling smelling like a couple of beers.”
Although they briefly engaged on Twitter following the announcement of Mitrione’s signing, it doesn’t appear that “Meathead” is interested in a showdown with the wrestling-minded Tony Johnson, who is 3-0 in Bellator with notable wins over ex-heavyweight champ Alexander Volkov and current UFC talent Derrick Lewis.
“Just saying his name made me fall asleep,” Mitrione quipped.
Instead, the 37-year-old Indiana native would prefer to spend the duration of his six-figure deal with the California-based promotion putting on the most entertaining fights possible. If a title shot pops up along the way, then so be it. But Mitrione hints that part of his negotiations with Bellator involved having at least some input in the matchmaking process.
“They brought me in for exciting fights and ratings. I provide both,” he said. “I don’t need warm-up fights; I’m a grown-ass man. I’ve been scrapping a long time. Let’s get in and start working. If they want me to fight for a title, cool, let’s fight for a title. If they want me to fight whoever, cool let’s fight whoever.
“The only thing I told them I didn’t want, I don’t want to put on track shoes to fight somebody, and I’m not trying to get pregnant….I was brought here for a reason. Let me be the reason that people tune in. Nobody wants to watch another dude get pregnant. If we’re gonna grapple, grapple... but I’m not trying to get lay and prayed, and I’m not trying to win or lose by points. I don’t believe in that.”