Mitrione attributes progression to athleticism

Matt Mitrione (right), seen here face-to-face with Kimbo Slice before UFC 113 in Montreal, has...

Matt Mitrione (right), seen here face-to-face with Kimbo Slice before UFC 113 in Montreal, has progressed at a rate other fighters can only dream about. (Eric Bolte/QMI Agency/Files)

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

Some MMA fighters hate the physical act of fighting.

Athletes like Nick Diaz and Chael Sonnen have admitted as much in the past, but are motivated by their desire to be the best.

Others say they despise the training, but competing is the payoff.

And then there's Matt Mitrione, whose ear-to-ear grin makes him look like a kid on Christmas morning every time he's trading leather in the centre of the octagon.

But winning smile aside, the former football player has progressed at a rate other fighters can only dream about.

In five pro bouts, Mitrione has shown the kind of composure that takes some well over a dozen to develop.

"(I attribute that) to my athletic background; I've been pretty successful at all sports in my life," Mitrione said in an interview with the Sun.

"To be honest, I've been beaten up so much in my life that getting beat up isn't really a concern of mine. I don't have too much of an ego where I can't lose in the gym.

"I know that sooner or later, I'm going to get my ass kicked in front of millions of people. So I'm not too worried about that overall."

Mitrione looks to avoid that kind a public beating when he meets Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 Oct. 29 in Las Vegas.

The former Purdue University standout remains undefeated in his pro career, but he's taking a significant step upwards in competition.

Not only has Kongo fought some of the top dogs in the heavyweight division, he's the only man to reach the judges' scorecards against current champion Cain Velasquez.

The fight was somewhat one-sided, but Kongo still managed to hurt Velasquez with some heavy shots.

His last fight also saw him score the comeback of the year, as he managed to survive Pat Barry's onslaught long enough to deliver a stunning knockout at UFC on Versus 4 in June.

"Kongo showed that he's as resilient as can be," Mitrione said of the performance.

"He twists and turns and makes it almost impossible to stop a fight. One of the good things that he does, even if het gets licked or knocked over, is he makes it as difficult as possible for the ref to stop the fight.

"He's always rolling and bouncing around. I think that's a good thing he does for himself. I think that's good for his career."

Kongo said he has ironed out the holes in his game that lead to him getting caught by a huge right from Barry.

"I've learned a lot from my last mistakes," Kongo said.

"I learned a lot from that fight. Pat Barry dropped me with a large hook, so it was the kind of thing that surprised me. I didn't expect that.

"I am focused. I have good training partners and coaches. I just try to do my best everyday. So some people will say, 'Oh, he has a weakness,' but everyday, every minute I work on my weaknesses."

Mitrione fought the same night Kongo bested Barry, battering Christian Morecraft en route to a knockout victory of his own. Though he put on yet another dominant performance, he said it was one of his weakest so far.

"To be honest, I thought that was one of my worst fights," Mitrione said.

"I over-trained and was pretty slow and lethargic. I wasn't very energetic in there and didn't move very much at all.

"I'm glad I got the knockout and I'm glad he felt kind of helpless in the stand-up, but it was a poor performance on my part. I'm glad people thought it was a fun fight to watch, but I don't see it that way at all.

"I was flat-footed and pretty stagnant. I was slipping punches as they were coming, but I was backing straight up and could have gotten myself in a lot of trouble. I know that was a weakness that I had and I've addressed it and worked on it as much as I could."

Though Kongo certainly has a reputation as a tough and talented competitor, he's also frequently criticized for being a dirty fighter.

Mitrione said if things get nasty, he's willing to fight fire with fire.

"He's no stranger to pressing the rules--grabbing shorts, grabbing the cage if he gets turned around and letting his knees free on somebody's ball sack," Mitrione said.

"I don't know if that's a good thing, but that's what he does. He's warned about it consistently. It is what it is.

"If he decides to fight me like that, then I can fight back the same way."

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