When the Octagon door closes on Matt Mitrione at UFC Live on Versus this Sunday, the Springfield, Illinois native will face his first true test as a professional fighter in 7-1 prospect Christian Morecraft. Wins against fighters such as Tim Hague and Joey Beltran provide great tune ups in the UFC’s ever improving heavyweight division, but the former Boilermaker will need more than victories over mid-tier gatekeepers if he is to make his mark as a fighter worthy of main card status. In contrast to his first four conquests, a win over a solid prospect such as Morecraft could put Mitrione within legitimate striking distance of a title shot.
The 32-year-old Mitrione was a football star at Purdue University before toiling in mediocrity as an undrafted member of the New York Giants in 2002. And while his former career as an NFL defensive lineman is often referenced during fights, Mitrione actually has as many wins as a professional MMA fighter (4) as he had total NFL tackles. Even though he may not have experienced great success in professional football, the athleticism that took Mitrione to the NFL is apparent, as few UFC heavyweights display his fluidity of movement in the Octagon.
While Mitrione remains undefeated, his game still has holes and he has shown unremarkable ability as a ground fighter through his time on TUF and in his four professional fights. To be fair, he has handled his first four opponents without needing to go to the ground and has prevented any of them from dictating that the fight take place on the mat. That may change this weekend, as Morecraft will most likely angle for takedowns early and often with the intention of using his weight and frame to employ his effective—if unrefined—version of ground and pound. Few heavyweights are willing to stand and bang with Mitrione, as he has established a reputation as a solid striker who can land heavy leg kicks and a stiff jab with regularity. Morecraft’s fight versus Stefan Struve also showed that the 24-year-old can be rocked when clipped by a punch, even when it isn’t thrown with significant power.
A win over Morecraft vaults Mitrione in to the second tier of UFC heavyweights, alongside fighters like Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and former TUF cast-mate Brendan Schaub. A loss would drop him somewhere closer to the middle of the division and would derail any hopes of a title shot in the near future. Expect Mitrione to employ a “sprawl and brawl” style while landing plenty of straight punches en route to a decision victory and further establish himself as a an athlete on the cusp of contender status at the highest level of the sport.