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Former Giants DT Matt Mitrione To Co-Main Event Bellator NYC

UFC Fight Night Weigh-in Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images

Matt Mitrione might not be name that immediately rings a bell for New York Giants fans. Mitrione was an undrafted free agent out of Purdue and played in nine games for Big Blue in 2002 before a foot injury caused him to be placed on injured reserve for all of 2003. He was then released and spent some time with the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings before his NFL career came to an end in 2005.

Now, Mitrione is one of the top MMA heavyweights in the world. After the NFL, he ended up on the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter. He was eliminated in the semifinals of the show, but officially made his professional MMA debut on the finale of the show, a second-round KO victory against Marcus Jones. Mitrione was also the opponent for the UFC heavyweight debut of Kimbo Slice, a fight Mitrione won in the second round by TKO.

Since his MMA debut, Mitrione has put up a professional record of 11-5 between UFC and Bellator, where he signed in March of 2016.

He’ll be one of the co-main events for Bellator’s first card in New York City, June 24th at Madison Square Garden. He’s set to fight Fedor Emelianenko, a bout that was supposed to happen back in February. But on the morning of the fight, Mitrione was sent to the hospital with kidney stones and the fight was postponed.

Before this weekend’s fight, Mitrione talked with Big Blue View about his time with the Giants, the differences between training for the NFL and MMA, and the connection he’ll always feel for the area.

This interview was edited only for clarity and length.

BBV: We're getting into the time of training camps in the NFL. In 2002, you came into the league as an undrafted free agent. What was it like being in camp and trying to make a team like that?

MM: You know, I took less money. The Giants actually offered me the least amount of money out of all the places that offered me as a free agent. I took it because I felt like I was better than the backups for the Giants. Ross Kolodziej and Cedric [Scott]. Ross and Cedric were both draft picks the year before me, but I felt like I had the best opportunity to play there.

To be honest, coming out of college I had an injury. I had a broken foot and I felt like I was a second-, third-, maybe fourth-round draft pick and so I had a chip on my shoulder when I came to the Giants because me being a free agent and not getting the money I deserved really motivated me. So it wasn't stressful at all, it was more like, 'why don't these assholes understand how good I am? Let's get this thing done with. I'm better than these dudes and I can't wait to prove it.’

BBV: That team seems pretty interesting. You had peak-Tiki, Strahan was coming off his record-breaking sack year, and you had rookie year Jeremy Shockey. What are your memories from that locker room?

MM: The locker room is what I miss the most, you know. It was an incredible experience. I saw action in nine games, but just the life lessons you learn being around guys like [Jason] Sehorn, Shockey, Strahan, Tiki, Jesse Palmer, Kerry Collins, Dhani Jones, Amani Toomer. All those dudes had really distinct personalities and as long as you had a genuine interest in learning from them, they all took interest in sharing their knowledge. It was great.

I got cut after I was on injury protection in 2003 with the Giants and I signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2004. I went in thinking that they were both storied, very traditional programs and it wasn't going to be that much different. That couldn't have been further from the truth. The Giants, I realized, are completely heads and shoulders above every other organization I was around. The way they do everything that they do, the integrity that they do it with. It was spectacular and I didn't realize that until I was gone -- just how great the Giants were.

BBV: You were a rock during your time at Purdue. You started 35 straight games at defensive tackle there and Drew Brees was on that team. What was it like being on a team with him at that age?

MM: Brees is an exceptional player. He's the most competitive person I've ever met in my life on any level and he's obsessed with greatness. He's obsessed with perfection. He and I would show up early and we were good friends through college, especially for the first handful of years. He's from Texas, around Austin, and I'm from Springfield, Illinois, which is right by Purdue, like three hours away, so he would come home with me for vacations when he couldn't get home.

He's a really good dude, man. I remember he used to do these drills of throwing a ball into a garbage can at increments of 20, 30, and 40 yards away and he would launch 50 to 100 balls. If they touched the garbage can it wasn't enough, they had to land in the garbage can repetitively, almost to OCD levels. It was really impressive.

Purdue v Michigan  X

BBV: Was MMA something you had an interest in during college and while you were playing or was it something that came to you were reassessing what to do after football?

MM: I was was a Prop 48 guy coming out of high school. It means I red-shirted a year. The year I red-shirted and couldn't compete, I did a kickboxing competition. It was called the tough man competition and I got second in it. That's really the only thought I ever gave it in that situation. I just did it for the fun of it, just to see what the competition was like. But it was like three one-minute rounds, so it wasn't anything real.

That was my first taste of it and to be honest, I really had no desire to get punched in the face for a living. But when the NFL was done with me in Week 6 of 2005, my son was born that following week. I started this sports nutrition company and a guy named Jayson Werth, who played baseball for the Phillies and the Nationals, was using my product and liked it. He asked me to jump on an amateur MMA show and I told him I would. I got injured and didn't end up getting on the show, but I kept training because I was friends with guys at that time and ended up on The Ultimate Fighter about six months later.

BBV: Now that you're training and going through these fight camps, what are some differences between a fight camp and NFL training camp?

MM: The biggest difference to me is that I control my own schedule in a fight camp. Whatever my body tells me I want to do is what I do. I don't have to ram into another 320-pound human being — or more — who can pull me from limb-to-limb. I can get my rest when I need it and I don't have to will my body to work.

That's also a gift and a curse. I don't really have a coach driving me to do certain things all the time. It's up to your own work ethic and your own mentality. So if you allow yourself to become complacent and settle for certain things and not work to your fullest, then you'll never make it.

BBV: Does that make it more difficult in this situation where you've been training for the same fight twice?

MM: Yes, it is difficult to do that. I've done the exact same movements, counters, combinations, visualizing ... I've done all of this for a really long time. It's difficult to stay motivated during this, especially in the waning weeks of the camp. But that's why you have training partners and you have friends around you to go, 'dude, go bust your ass, what are you doing here right now?'

If you decide you're going to have a light day, they're going to turn it up on their own. That's the type of thing that they do and that's why you have training partners and coaches and friends that can be like that.

I don't get punched in the face anymore. During practice, I don't put on big gloves, I don't spar because I know I can take a punch and I know I can give a punch. But on days when my body hurts and we have to do grappling and a lot of movement and distance and timing and drilling, that training has to go hard. Or like when I have to do grappling and a 270-pound dude hanging on me — I'm the smallest of my training partners. My other training partners are 265 to 310 pounds. They all have refrigerator strength -- you can pick it up and carry it a block if you need to -- that's what they've got. It was a pretty intense camp. When I can't get there mentally on my own, they force me to go there.

BBV: You were listed around 295 to 300 pounds as a defensive lineman. In February for the first go at this fight, you hit the weigh-in at 257.5 pounds. Does one of them feel more natural for you?

MM: Well, for this fight I'm about 270 right now. It kind of all depends. If I lift at all, I balloon up like a tick. So for me, I lifted during the offseason for this camp and picked up a lot of strength. I was dead-lifting like 465 pounds, four sets of eight, silly strength. Then I was like, ‘look I'm 280 pounds again, I gotta quit lifting weights,’ so I dropped about 10 pounds and my body just kind of held on from there.

But for me being 295-315, weight is just a number. It doesn't really mean that much.

BBV: This fight is going to be in New York — Bellator's first event in New York City. Is it more special that you already had a professional sports experience here or would it have been special to be the co-main somewhere like MSG either way?

MM: Yeah, of course it's special. My maternal and fraternal sides of my family are from here. They're all from Jersey -- from West Caldwell, Lindhurst, Seacacus, Bloomfield, Nutley, that whole area. This is all my stomping ground. When I was with the Giants I was staying at my cousins' house and having a great time. So this is a family reunion to come watch me be successful in a different sporting venue.

Bellator NYC is available on pay-per-view Saturday night, June 24 at 10 p.m. ET, live from Madison Square Garden.