Nothing personal, Ryan Bader, but Matt Mitrione isn’t a fan of the “champ-champ” concept. Nor was he super into the idea of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix in the first place.
Now, this could sound like simple bitterness, considering Bader earned a unanimous decision over Mitrione in the tournament semifinals, then went on to defeat Fedor Emelianenko in the tourney finals. That made Bader, who went entered the bracket as Bellator’s light heavyweight champ, also the heavyweight champ — the first simultaneous dual titleholder in Bellator’s decade-long history.
But Mitrione believes mixed martial arts’ glut of champion vs. champion fights in recent years — three “champ-champs” have been crowned in the UFC since 2016 — has muddied divisional schemes. While it might make for short-term excitement, it doesn’t do much good for the classes which get held up.
“I think about it, right? I’m happy for those individuals,” Mitrione told host Luke Thomas on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “But I think that classes are classes, and I think that heavyweights are an animal all amongst themselves. So, I think there can be interdivisional fights, and I think it’s great for the fodder for fantasy stuff. But I don’t think it’s great for that evolution of the sport. I don’t think it is. I think it muddies the waters and I think it negates — for example, if I didn’t lose to Bader, pretty good chance I’ll have a title around my waist for Bellator.”
Mitrione was on a four-fight winning streak in Bellator when the idea of the heavyweight tournament was presented to him. The heavyweight belt had been vacant since former champ Vitaly Minakov, who recently returned, left the company.
If Bellator had simply filled the belt with a single title fight, Mitrione almost surely would have been part of it. Instead, by allowing light heavyweights to compete in the heavyweight tourney, Mitrione is now 4-1 in Bellator with a loss to a natural LHW on his record.
“[If] this fight never happened, I’d be 4-0 in Bellator, 5-0, something like that,” Mitrione said. “But now I’m 4-1 in Bellator, and my only loss is to a light heavyweight. So that still counts as a loss on my record even though it wasn’t really a heavyweight fight, but it was a light heavyweight that made heavyweight. It’s just a totally different animal if, for example, when Rory MacDonald tried to fight [Gegard] Mousasi. Rory is not a 185er, he’s a 170. Mousasi is a 185er that fights at 205 sometimes. But, he’ll go out there and demolish someone like that, because wrestlers typically have that skillset they’ve developed at 185 or 170 or even a 205er.”
Mitrione disagreed with Bellator’s decision to hold a tournament in which only four of the eight competitors — Mitrione, Emelianenko, Frank Mir, and Roy Nelson — were traditionally heavyweights.
“I think Bellator’s tournament was exciting enough with the heavyweights that we have on the roster,” said Mitrione, who fought Sergei Kharitonov to a 15-second no-contest at Bellator 215 in his most recent bout. “I don’t think we needed to add name value to it.”
All that said, despite his disagreements with the concept of division crossovers, Mitrione won’t hate on Bader’s accomplishments in winning both belts. At the end of the day, not only did Bader roll over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and defeat Mitrione, but he also knocked out Emelianenko, one of the sport’s all-time greats, and did so faster than Mitrione finished Emelianenko when they fought in 2017.
“He went out there and he threw hands and he did a great job,” Mitrione said. “He won, not me. So if I was salty about Bader being he heavyweight champ and not me, then that would be sour grapes. I feel that Bader did a great job. If there ever was any question about him being invited in that tournament, then he answered them, and he vindicated Mr. Coker by throwing hands out there and winning. I’m proud of him. As a friend, I’m really happy for him. Professionally, I’m jealous because he bettered me in a skillset I’ve never developed. And he won out by knocking out Fedor better than I did.”