Matt Mitrione may not be that far away.
As preposterous as that sounds after only five professional fights, Mitrione may only be a handful of bouts away from a UFC title shot.
Mitrione is 5-0, and four of the five wins have come by knockout. The former NFL defensive lineman has shown better skills each time in the cage, and he has steadily improved his competition.
Mitrione’s first two fights were against MMA beginners Marcus Jones and Kimbo Slice. From those two, he stepped up to veterans Joey Beltran and Tim Hague (both have 13 career wins), and his last performance was his most impressive, a two-round destruction of Christian Morecraft.
However, going against the case for Mitrione’s quick rise in the UFC is the selection of opponents. Everyone Mitrione has stepped into the octagon with is mainly a striker, and Mitrione’s next fight will be no exception.
On Saturday, Mitrione is set to take on former kickboxing champion turned UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo. In Kongo’s last fight, he knocked out Pat Barry after being seriously rocked just seconds earlier.
“It was a beautiful comeback,” Mitrione said. “All it showed me was that Cheick's resilient, he's got a ton of heart. If he's in trouble, he's very active and you really have to work to get that finish against him.”
Even though Mitrione has yet to show a polished ground game, the former New York Giant and Minnesota Viking is not against showing something different.
“If he's kicking my ass standing up,” Mitrione said, just before demonstrating some of his trademark humor, “I'll take him down and try to make him pregnant.”
Since playing the heel on season 10 of the Ultimate Fighter back in late 2009, Mitrione has amassed a following of fans, and the UFC has taken notice. Every one of his Mitrione’s fights has been shown on television.
Being in the public eye provides a great deal of motivation for Mitrione.
“To be honest, it doesn't matter if I'm the co-main or main event,” said Mitrione, who recently had his fight upgraded to co-main event status after Georges St. Pierre opted out of his title defense with an injury. “You just don't want to get beat up by Cheick Kongo.”
For now, Mitrione resides in the second tier of UFC heavyweights. He is certainly not yet in consideration for the top 10, but he does belong in the next class of heavyweights looking to break through which includes Kongo, Stefan Struve, Brendan Schaub, and Roy Nelson.
Mitrione provided some analysis of future opponents.
“Travis Browne looked great,” Mitrione said to Bleacher Report's Gary Herman. “It’s a shame Roy (Nelson) gassed so early against Frank. The heavyweights have done a really good job.”
One man who is not a heavyweight has certainly been linked to Mitrione, and that is Tito Ortiz. Mitrione said some disparaging things about Ortiz’s well-known wife Jenna Jameson, and Ortiz confronted Mitrione at last summer’s UFC fighter summit.
The two looked ready to square off until onlookers calmed them down.
“Who’s that?” Mitrione said, when asked if he wanted to fight the former light heavyweight champion. “I thought he retired already. I didn’t know he was still fighting.”
Besides being quick-witted, Mitrione is also quick on his feet. UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen recently referred to Mitrione as the best athlete in the heavyweight division.
With an undefeated record as well, Mitrione is certainly making a statement to be considered among the top fighters in the division, but he is not going to put any additional pressure on himself to ensure he is considered in the class.
“The awesome thing about that question is I don't get paid to worry about that,” Mitrione said. “If I go out there and beat Kongo, then it's a question to worry about. If I get my ass kicked, then that conversation is over. That question is way beyond my mind.”
Gary Herman is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.