“I started off a little slower than I wanted to, but I’m pretty damn athletic man, second-most athletic heavyweight around,” said Matt Mitrione after his win over Tim Hague at UFC Fight For The Troops 2, shooting a sly sideways grin at training partner Pat Barry. “As a result, I need to make people fight in my game.”

Matt Mitrione at UFC 119

Matt Mitrione at UFC 119

That he did on Saturday night, stuffing Hague’s takedown attempts and working him with a solid jab. Mitrione dropped the Canadian midway through the first round of their fight with a straight left hand then finished him off with strikes for the TKO stoppage.

Can you really call a 2:39 stoppage a slow start?

Mitrione does, but that’s because has lofty expectations for himself.

“For this fight, I wanted to emulate Dominick Cruz,” he said after the fight.  “I wanted to be the 265-pound Dominick Cruz.  I love the way you fight brother, you’re elusive, and I wanted to be just like that.”

Cruz is the UFC’s first 135-pound champion, known for his unorthodox and perpetual movement in the Octagon, attacking from all angles.

“He’s so elusive man. He uses his athleticism to make everybody else change their game. Scotty Jorgensen is a tough, tough little fellow and Dominick made him look like a child, took him down at will, head strikes coming from every angle, finished with beautiful leg kicks,” said Mitrione, recounting Cruz’s recent title defense.

“And the way that Dominick’s game plan is and the way that he makes everybody so uncomfortable with his movement because it’s so herky-jerky and so unpredictable. I love the way he fights. I respect it. I told him before hand, I’m going to try and fight like you.”

Much of Mitrione’s athleticism comes from his time as a professional football player, having played for the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings in the NFL. He’s only four fights into his mixed martial arts career, but that athleticism, while not quite up to par with Cruz’s yet, has allowed Mitrione to find success in the UFC when most fighters of his experience would be trying to fight their way up on regional promotions.

Mitrione is still in a highly exploratory phase of his growth, not quite sure where he stands in the overall scheme of the sport.

“This fight was the same as my last fight with Joey Beltran, so I can’t say where this really puts me as far as my progression as a martial artist. As a martial artist, I don’t really know where the hell I am because I haven’t really had the chance to capitalize or really see where my ground game is,” he assessed. “I don’t really know where my progression is. I know as a stand-up guy I can really let ‘em fly.”

Not that Mitrione is looking to get into a wrestling match anytime soon.

“I’m not asking for a wrestler, I’m just saying I don’t exactly know where (my ground game) is. I prefer to trade leather, I’d prefer to let my shins and my hands fly.”

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