Competing on the most prominent stage in mixed martial arts comes equipped with an automatic amount of pressure.
For some, simply stepping into the Octagon is a dream realized and validation for years of hard work spent grinding out victories for smaller promotions, where others are looking to prove they belong competing with the best fighters in the world.
In a realm as competitive as the UFC, the battles come on multiple fronts. The notion of a fighter only being as good as his last showing, while cliche, rings with an element of truth. When a fighter finds himself on a losing skid, the weight of the circumstances at hand become an unavoidable reality.
That being said, each competitor handles pressure differently, and UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione is prepared to face every aspect of of his current situation head-on.
The former NFL defensive tackle-turned-mixed martial artist will be looking to stop a two-fight skid when he steps in against Phil De Fries next Saturday at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in Stockholm, Sweden, headlined by top light heavyweights Alexander Gustafsson and Gegard Mousasi.
Having his back against the wall is unfamiliar territory for the former Purdue University standout, as he got off to a red-hot start in his first four showings under the UFC banner.
The 34-year-old's early success positioned him to take a step up in competition. But after coming up short against Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 and suffering a first-round defeat to his former TUF housemate Roy Nelson last December, the urgency and intensity surrounding Mitirone's career have increased.
The Indiana-based fighter is fully aware of what could be waiting on the other side of a loss in Sweden, but "Meathead" intends to use the pressure as motivation to get the job done against De Fries.
"Oh, for sure there is pressure and my head is definitely on the chopping block here," Mitrione told Bleacher Report. "I don't know if it will get cut off or not, or the UFC will pull a Dan Hardy and keep me around, but if I lose then I'm definitely subject to being cut. And I acknowledge that.
"Honestly, it doesn't really affect me because in the UFC you can have one bad fight and get axed out.
"That is not any additional pressure but it is a realization that I could get cut if I lose. I pride myself with being as honest with myself as possible, and this is a situation where there definitely is peril if I lose this fight. But I'm not going to lose, so I'm not worried about it.
"There are some things I look forward to, and this fight is definitely one of them. My head is on the chopping block, there is a little bit of pressure on externally, and let's go out there and see what I got. Let's go out there and see what happens, baby.
"I'm no spring chicken and everybody knows that," Mitrione added. "I started late in the game and I've been in the UFC for three and a half years now; it's time for me to do something. I have seven fights under my belt and it's sink or swim now. It's sh** or get off the pot. It's go time right now and either I do it or I don't."
In the matchup with De Fries, Mitrione is facing an opponent in a similar position. The Team Alliance fighter came out on the business end of his most recent outing against powerhouse Todd Duffee, bringing his record to 2-2 under the UFC banner.
On paper, the bout between the British grappler and the heavy-handed slugger would appear to be a classic stylistic tilt. That being said, having learned from past experiences, Mitrione is ready for anything that could possibly come his way.
"From the way it looks, Phil doesn't have the best chin in the world," Mitrione said. "I have pretty heavy hands and I'm not afraid to stand in the pocket and trade, and I think from the way it looks to most people, he matches up poorly against me and I match up very well against him.
"But in that same breath, Phil has some takedowns and he is a solid grappler. I feel people will say if the fight goes to the ground, I'll be in trouble, so it's vice versa for both of us in a sense. But honestly, I feel my ground game is pretty damn good; I just never show it.
"Even before I came down here to South Florida and trained with Thiago Silva and Braulio Estima, I was training with Coach Neil Melanson. I was training with some really good guys. It is just a matter of time before I get in a spot where I'm grappling during a fight and showing my ground-and-pound, top control and everything else. I'm excited about it.
"My fight IQ is getting better and I'm excited about learning. I made a couple of mistakes in my fight against Roy Nelson. I stopped using my feet, stopped moving around, and said screw it, I'll just trade off with Roy. I wasn't afraid of his power and thought f*** it, let's just see what happens. But the biggest mistake I made was that I got too far over on my front leg and I flared my elbow out on my straight left.
"Roy saw that a couple times and it was something they had practiced quite a bit. He knew I was expecting his overhand right and when I flared out my elbow and had my eyebrow tucked into my bicep; he threw an uppercut.
"It was something I never saw coming and it was because I telegraphed what I did and put too much weight forward. If I would have put my weight on my back foot, like I'm always supposed to, by the time I would have stepped into my punch, his punch would have been six or seven inches short of my face. He never would have thrown it, but I messed up.
"It is things like that I learn the most from. It sucks to say it but you have to lose in order to learn some times. You just have to. If you win, you think you are doing everything right but if you lose, then you see all the dumb sh** you do. It sucks but I feel like my fight IQ. has really increased and I feel like I've become a more intelligent fighter because of what happened.
"I would like to think this next fight is a great opportunity to show that progression but Phil could come out there and do something that throws me for a loop," Mitrione added. "He could do some things I've never seen before, put me in a bad spot and win the fight. You never know.
"But I am going to do every thing in my power to make sure that doesn't happen. I'm going to use everything I've been working on in training and you never know what I'm going to do. Hell, I never know what I'm going to do and that's the fun part of it."
Despite the circumstances lingering overhead, Mitrione has kept his signature brand of humor intact. The IFA gym owner and Team Blackzillians fighter doesn't shy away from the reality of his situation, much the same way as he doesn't back down from trading leather inside the Octagon.
For Mitrione, the fight game is all or nothing, and he intends to give De Fries everything he has next Saturday at Ericsson Globe Arena. Whether that will be enough to earn the victory remains to be seen, but one thing Mitrione can guarantee is that he's going to bring the ruckus directly to his British counterpart.
"I'm bringing the same old me into this fight. There has never been one fight where I fight harder than any time before it. I'm not brand new and improved. I didn't go back to the drawing board. I'm just learning the same things I was learning before. I'm going to be the same douchebag who is probably going to smile in the middle of the fight because I enjoy what the hell I do. I'm going to get out there and do work like I always do.
"Another thing fans are going to see for sure is a tan Matt Mitrione. I go to the tanning bed on the regular and while I look a little bit hairy, I'm going to be tan. That's for damn sure. I also have a beard that I've never sported going into a fight before. I'm not going to shave it and I'm going to be grimy and gutter in Sweden. I'm excited about it."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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