The biggest event of Viacom-owned Bellator MMA’s summer, and possibly of their 2017 calendar, is right around the corner. Midwestern heavyweight (265-pound) fighter Matt “Meathead” Mitrione will get another shot at taking on one of the best heavyweights of all time in the Russian known as “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko.
Emelianenko (36-4-0, 1 No Contest) was originally scheduled to make his promotional debut for Bellator opposite the Springfield, Illinois native (11-5-0) at Bellator 172 in February at San Diego, California’s SAP Center. Just hours before the fight, the main event was changed to Patricky “Pitbull” Freire vs Josh “The Punk” Thomson after Mitrione was forced to withdraw due to kidney stones.
To the best of Mitrione’s knowledge, he is free of the stones and good to fight at this point in time.
Now, the rescheduled bout is set to take place at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” Madison Square Garden in New York City. The event will be split into two portions with the two men co-headlining the Bellator: NYC pay-per-view portion and with Bellator 180 serving as the pay-per-view’s free undercard, which will air on Spike.
“I’m so excited to come back to the East Coast and compete again. I spent two years with the New York Giants, all my family is out there and I’m ecstatic that they will get to be there and watch me punch the greatest heavyweight of all time in the face,” Mitrione originally told the media back in March. Bellator has been awesome in supporting me throughout this whole ordeal with the kidney stones and knowing that I’m the sexiest opponent for Fedor,” Mitrione said. “I’m glad we were able to keep this fight intact and putting it on this monstrous pay-per-view event.”
This will be Emelianenko’s first bout in the U.S, since he originally retired from the sport of mixed martial arts back in 2011 under the promotional banner of the now-defunct Strikeforce, which had been run by current Bellator President Scott Coker.
The contest against the slightly younger 38-year-old UFC veteran in Mitrione will also prove to be the 40-year-old legend’s first real test in quite some time. Emelianenko returned to competition in 2015 under Rizin Fightinig Federation (Rizin FF,) but that fight is widley considered by MMA pundits to be a dud as he took on an unknown fighter in Jaideep “Heart” Singh, who was just 2-0 as a pro at the time.
The native of India submitted due to strikes in just over three minutes. Emelianenko then took part in a controversial majority draw against mid-level UFC veteran Fabio Maldonado for the Russian based promotion, Eurasia Fight Nights June of 2016. At the time of the fight, he was still serving as the “President of the Union of Russian MMA” and competing brought along a conflict of interest.
The result still remains a majority draw at the time of this writing (June 20.)
Meanwhile, Mitrione has gained a fair amount of popularity in Bellator after topping Carl “Badwater” Seumanutafa (10-7 overall, 9 finishes) in his debut. He then flattened England’s Oli Thompson (17-10 overall, 13 finishes) inside of two rounds.
In the age of money fights, that is exactly what this is, especially on the part of Emelianenko, as he has not been competitive in years (he left Strikeforce after three consecutive losses, in all of which he was finished.)
Still, a win over Mitrione might set up yet another super-fight with main-eventer and fellow Pride FC veteran Wanderlei “The Axe Murder” Silva (35-12-1, 1 No contest) of Brazil or his highly-sellable “truth-talking” opponent, “The American Gangster/The Bad Guy” Chael Sonnen (28-15-1.)
Mitrione could also get that fight as Silva definitely has the ability to move from middleweight (185 pounds) to heavyweight, it will just depend on the night’s results.
How Did We Get Here?
Mitrione entered into the UFC picture after competing on the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter entitled Heavyweights, during which he would go 1-1, being eliminated from the reality television contest after being submitted by one James McSweeney due to a rear-naked choke in the first round. He would rebound with a win on the show’s live finale over Marcus Jones to stay with the UFC.
“Meathead” would compile an overall/UFC 9-3 record that included a win over the eventual face of Bellator, the late Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson (5-2, 1 No Contest overall, 0-2 in the UFC). The former NFL star would fall to 9-5 and be released by the promotion in early 2016.
Emelianenko would garner fame for his legendary bouts, mostly held in Japan with Pride FC. Between the promotion known as RINGS and the now defunct Pride FC, Affliction, and Strikeforce organizations, the heavy-hitter would compile a career record of 31-1, 1 No Contest and that included winning Pride’s heavyweight title and defending it twice. He would do the same under Affliction as WAMMA heavyweight champion.
Looking Ahead to Gold
Although Mitrione has only been with Bellator for a short time, “Smooth” Benson Henderson was given a title shot in two of the of his fights with the organization thus far for the welterweight (170-pound) and lightweight (155-pound) championships, losing to Andrey Koreshkov and “Iron” Michael Chandler in February, Henderson’s Bellator debut, and in November of 2016 respectively.
In the lead-up to this highly-anticipaed showdown, he has said that having the fight postponed until this coming Saturday in New York (June 24) has allowed him to get more time to prepare for the icon that will stand across from him. With a win over a man who is still an obviously huge money draw, a heavyweight title shot, something Mitrione never managed to work his way up to in the UFC, can’t be far off.
Mitrione’s current camp is the Blackzilians team of Boca Raton, Florida. As of January, UFC legend and former champion “Suga’” Rashad Evans has gone on record essentially noting that the team, which once dominated the point-based 21st season of TUF over their rival American Top Team, is falling apart. Per Evans, his coach Henry Hooft wished to separate himself in order to start his own gym brand, which led to much infighting.
Fortunately, that messy situation hasn’t gotten in Mitrione’s way yet while he’s been with Bellator. Read more about the trying situation on www.bjpenn.com/mma-news.
On the flip side of the equation, Emelianenko has been training exclusively in Holland, which is known for its kickboxers to best imitate his opponent’s fighting style and has told the media that his is in prime shape and free of nagging minor injuries.
The Odds: Mitrione is expecting to get a knockout finish. The sportsbook known as 5Dimes currently has him listed as the -110 favorite and Emelianenko as the +100 underdog.
“Everything of course depends on the way the fight will go. The only reason why you saw more striking is because I trained more in striking and because I felt I could stand up with the guys who are strikers, but to say I’ve changed my style is not true. It all depends on how the fight will go, the course it will take, and whether it’s striking or submissions I’ll take care of it……Matt belongs to a top echelon of MMA fighters, especially the elite group he used to fight, and he’s a very dangerous fight. He’s very skilled and very strong and packs a really good bunch, so he belongs to the top tier of those fighters.”
How the Fight Should Go
For that reason, his opponent mentioned above, this fight will more than likely be an MMA boxing match and should come down to a matter of cardio, a battle to see who tires out and fails to avoid a strike first. Depending on how the fight goes, the “Emperor” seemed to hint that he may re-enter enter retirement, although he did reveal that he signed a three-fight deal with the company. The face-off with Mitrione is the first of the deal.
As mentioned above, Emelianenko is simply not the man that he used to be and he hasn’t been anywhere near the title picture regardless of promotion for about the last six years. Not only is he fighting for the cash, to his credit, it appears that he’s fighting just because he wants to. It’s like it’s almost all he knows.
However, UFC President Dana White has gone on record saying that, essentially, if you are a fighter who even thinks about retirement that you should probably go ahead and do it.
Former UFC welterweight champion Georges “Rush” St-Pierre just recently returned from a three-plus-year hiatus after acknowledging that he just didn’t have the same fire to compete at the time, winning most of his fights due to an unexciting point-fighting style, and Emelianenko seems to be in a similar situation.
Emelianenko has already cemented his legacy in the sport of MMA and at best (aside from the cash) there is a flimsy upside for the big swinger, using this fight to prove that he still has what it takes to get the job done against younger competition.
Mitrione still sees the value in his adversary’s name and also knows (as was proven while Emelianenko was with strike force) that he is beatable. Also, against anyone that would be considered halfway decent competition (like a middle-of-the-road Maldonado) has a shot to take him to the final bell.
The American has yet to do anything major in the sport and competition has done so much that, while he’s never been one to give particularly insightful interviews to media outlets to really let them inside his head, just looks to be lacking motivation of any real substance.
Sure, there is a possibility that Mitrione’s success has come since he jumped ship due to a perceived drop in the quality of available opponents and Emelianenko may be losing his durable chin, but this still should be a case of a fighter using a face of the sport as a platform to things perceived to be bigger and better.
Emelianenko could be sent crashing down to the canvas come Saturday night.
Prediction: Matt Mitrione def. Fedor Emelianenko by way of KO/TKO
Further Background Info
Emelianenko had previously been sought after by the world leader in MMA for quite some time, but the two sides could not agree to a deal after the UFC considered the other side to be too demanding. One of the propositions being co-promotion between the UFC and the M-1 Global Promotion, which is run by his management.
Based on available information, it appears that the UFC had simply acknowledged his diminishing value, seeing him as no longer the same fighter that he once was, a warrior that had previously gone unbeaten for ten years in similar fashion to the lighter weight Jose Aldo.
This event will be Bellator’s second-ever pay-per-view card in company history. The first, Bellator 120, took place in 2014 and reportedly did 100,000 buys but the main event was a lackluster fight between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal that ended by way of a unanimous decision.
The promotion’s first attempted pay-per-view under the leadership of former head Bjorn Rebney, Bellator 106 fell apart after “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy/ The People’s Champion” Tito Ortiz (now retired for the second time with a record of 19-12-1) suffered a fractured neck prior to the event. The card was subsequently moved to Spike TV for free.
Bellator: NYC has a high-definition retail price of $49.95, as confirmed by Coker on MMAFighting.com’s The MMA Hour web-show in late March. The pay-per-view portion of this double-header will also be shown in select movie theatres across the country thanks to a partnership between Bellator and Phantom events.
The free televised under card will also feature three title fights between UFC veteran Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin and welterweight champion Douglas “The Phenom” Lima. Lightweight king “Iron” Michael Chandler will face Brent Primus. Light heavyweight champion and UFC veteran “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis is set to take on debuting fellow UFC veteran Ryan “Darth” Bader.
**The Bellator: NYC pay-per-view card will begin at 10PM ET | 7PM PT while the TV portion will start at 7PM ET | 4PM PT.
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