Matt Mitrione came into UFC 137 needing to pass an important test against Cheick Kongo to prove that he belonged among a loaded heavyweight division.
And while "Meathead" came up short against "The Darkness," there remains no shortage of hopeful light at the end of what is still a long and promising tunnel of a mixed martial arts career for the former NFL football player.
The key for Mitrione, now 5-1 after just six fights, is to learn from his first defeat and to improve those aspects of his game that he likely already knew were weaknesses coming in. To be fair, Mitrione didn't necessarily do any one thing all that poorly, at least in relation to Kongo. The fight was close throughout, as reflected by the judges' scorecards.
Mitrione's only glaring folly was the slow, deliberate pace at which he fought, one that suited Kongo's slow-footed style all too well. Coming into the bout, Mitrione's best chance to win lay in his latent athleticism, which he'd put to superb use in making the transition from the gridiron to the Octagon.
Instead, Mitrione was a bit too plodding and perhaps too careful from the get-go, taking his time sizing up Kongo rather than trying to dictate terms with his superior speed and strength. Mitrione seemed to play right into the hands of his more experienced competitor, thereby showing his own lack in that very same department.
With that being said, Mitrione's performance, while certainly disappointing, can hardly be characterized as a failure, particularly in the big picture. Though his age (33) would suggest otherwise, Mitrione's MMA career is just getting started. He only figures to get better from here on out, now that he's had the opportunity to face a quality opponent.
They may call Mitrione "Meathead," but he certainly seems smart enough to realize that he has a great deal of work left to do, and driven enough to do what needs to be done to become a contender in the heavyweight division.