Matt Mitrione is currently on the eve of the biggest fight of his young career, as he’ll face seasoned competitor Cheick Kongo in the main event of UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz tomorrow night. Though the undefeated former pro football player knows that Kongo is the most accomplished fighter that he’s yet to tangle with, he told UFC.com that he isn’t so sure that there’s such a big gap between himself and the towering Frenchman.
“Skillwise it’s a big step up,” Mitrione said. “But is it that much of a step up? I don’t know. We’ll find out on Saturday if I get my a** kicked.”
Kongo is coming off of a spectacular knockout win over Mitrione’s training partner Pat Barry, in a fight which he seemed most certainly to be losing. As a result of that incredible, come-from-behind victory, Mitrione knows not to rush in and swarm a hurt Kongo if he wants to avoid the same fate that his teammate met.
“He is most dangerous when he is in danger,” he said. “That’s the one thing you have to be sharp about. If he (Kongo) gets knocked down he stays active. But I think that I’ve shown in the vast experience of my five fights that if I knock somebody down, I’m patient.”
The biggest thing that Mitrione has going for him is his impressive athleticism and learning ability; the 33-year-old improves markedly from fight to fight and finally feels – thanks to the help of coaches like Randy Couture, Rashad Evans, Neil Melanson and Ray Sefo – that he’s hitting his stride as an MMA fighter, meaning that he should be more dangerous than ever come Saturday night.
“I’m in that transition period now,” said Meathead. “Maybe six months ago I was still a football player that was learning how to fight. I feel that now I’m much more of an MMA guy. I know more about my body, diet, cardio, grappling and setups. So I’m becoming an MMA fighter. But I think I’ll always be an athlete that can do this, that or the other. And I don’t know how to classify that.”
Mitrione meets Kongo tomorrow night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. FightLine will be back on the night with our live, ongoing coverage of the event, so don’t forget to check back.