Photo: Bellator MMA

NEW YORK–It doesn’t get much more laid back than Bellator heavyweight Matt Mitrione. With the Bellator NYC press conference now over and media circling the room inside the Viacom Building en masse, “Meathead” can be spotted off to the side playing the classic handheld memory game, Simon.

Perhaps you remember the slogan from the commercial for the one-time pop culture symbol: Simon’s a computer. Simon has a brain. You either do what Simon says, or else go down the drain.

“Is this part of your mental preparation for Fedor Emelianenko?” I asked him.

“It’s just how my brain works, my dude,” Mitrione answers, head still down following the four button commands with his two thumbs: yellow, yellow, green, blue, blue, green, red, red, green, yellow, green.

After finishing his game, Mitrione (11-5), 38, acknowledged the overall vibe of fight week in New York City.

“It’s been cool. It’s really… It sucks to do this, but I’m going to be honest, it has a very former promotion feel to it,” Mitrione told MMA Plus, referring to the UFC. “A big card. A lot of attention. A lot of media showed up. It has a big feel to it.”

It definitely does, as the main card is filled with veteran names like the headliner between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva, and Mitrione’s opponent, one of the greatest heavyweight fighters in the history of MMA, Fedor Emelianenko. 

Mitrone was originally scheduled to face “The Last Emperor” at Bellator 172 back in February, but had to pull out of the fight on the day of the event due to kidney stones. “It was hard because I felt guilty,” he said. “I really felt bad for everybody that bought airplane tickets, hotels, drove, and bought tickets to the arena.”

What was the pain like from the kidney stones compared to, say, getting punched or kicked in the cage?

“There’s no comparison,” he said. “It’s internal pain. Superficial pain is superficial pain, like if I got punched and I got a black eye or whatever. Internal pain in your organs, there is nothing like it, buddy.

Now 2-0 in Bellator after picking up wins over Carl Seumanutafa and Oli Thomson, the former defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and San Francisco 49’ers, was actually toying with the notion of fighting back in February even though he was in extreme pain.

Ultimately the bout was scrapped, but the fact that he was going to attempt to get in the cage with one of the greatest fighters of all time, shows you how high Mitrione’s tolerance for pain is. We aren’t talking about the scale of 1-10 with frown emojis here. Mitrione said his body was filled with seven liters of extra fluid in his body cavity and just touching him was excruciating.

What does he attribute his tolerance of pain to?

“I’m too ignorant to stop,” he says honestly. “Everybody feels pain right? If I can endure more pain than you I already win.”

Mitrione says he has a clean bill of health now.

“As far as I know I’m 100 percent health,” he said. “My body feels great. I feel fantastic.”

Emelianenko has gotten away from his Sambo roots in his most recent fights. Even prior to his retirement in 2012, the former champion stopped taking fights to the ground and showcasing some of his greatest strengths, which were his takedowns and submission skills. However, Mitrione is convinced he will see Emelianenko’s full repertoire and is preparing as such.

“I don’t know too many people that really want to stand with me,” he said with confidence. “Especially when I start touching up on them. So as soon as I start touching on people, I expect wrestling. And he is a Greco guy, a Sambo guy, which means he has to get in on my body, which is a pretty God damn difficult chore. But he is a normal human being. He feels pain like everybody else. He bleeds like everybody else. So when I start touching on him and his mouth starts to swell up and he feels it, I expect body locks. I expect back trips. I expect trying to get me to the ground so he doesn’t have to get touched up.”

Based on how he’s performed in a lot of his fights, Mitrione was asked about how he can appear to be a bit cavalier and somewhat reckless in the pocket at times.

“I think your wrong,” he answered. “I think I’m very calculated at what I do. I don’t think I’m cavalier or nonchalant about it. I have a very relaxed style about me. I can’t fight my style and be tense because my body doesn’t move right. The tighter you are the slower you move. So the more loose I am, the more flaccid and chill I am, the better my body reacts.”

Putting calculated technique aside, just him having a willingness to engage and enter into a fire fight seems fairly easy to assess.

“Yeah, to some extent, but I’m always calculated,” he said. “I see everything. Even coach Henri Hooft says that, ‘no one sees like you’ where I pick it up.  I play a very active and aggressive counter-fighting style where I make with my movements I make you uncomfortable where you feel like you have to throw something because you feel you have to protect yourself.

“And as soon as you do, I step back and I counter on you putting yourself out of range. I’m an aggressive initial striker, but I’m a very aggressive counter striker. It may look slightly reckless, like I’m putting myself in danger, but I’m betting on my athleticism to get me out of that point to put me in that situation where you are extended.”

Mitrione has been with Bellator for over a year now and seems to really be enjoying himself at this stage of his career. He’s been heavily promoted and is usually well received by the media due to his engaging personality, confidence and willingness to be open and honest about his life and professional career. He’s become a big ambassador for the Bellator brand now and should be for as long as he is with the promotion.

Now that he’s about to enter into the biggest fight of his career, against one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, in New York, where his professional football career began back in 2002, the Springfield, Ill. native was asked if this is a life-has-come-full-circle type of moment for him.

“People have brought it up and that’s cool. I’m probably the only person that’s ever done that right? Really for the most part I’m along for the ride. When I get done and I retire and I buy some land in hillbilly land and we are hanging out, I’ll probably be like ‘that was pretty cool.’ But as cliché as it sounds, as long as my children are proud of what I’ve done in my life and they are not embarrassed of what I’ve done, I’m pretty solid.”