UFC 137 Preview Part Five: Can TUF10’s Roy Nelson and Matt Mitirone Impress?

Last Monday marked the one-year anniversary of Brock Lesnar losing his heavyweight title to Cain Velasquez. The year since that fight has been a low-key one for what had become the UFC’s money weight class, with both Lesnar and Velasquez having not fought since UFC 121 due to injury.

Now as we enter the fall, the division is promising to pick up steam with Velasquez returning to defend against Junior Dos Santos on the UFC’s FOX debut, while Brock Lesnar will square off against former Strikeforce and K-1 Grand Prix world champion Alistair Overeem in December.

But first the heavyweight division assumes center stage at UFC 137 as Roy Nelson faces Mirko Cro Cop while Matt Mitirone fights Cheick Kongo.

At UFC 130 Roy Nelson learned the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. His reward for not pulling out of his fight with Frank Mir after contracting walking pneumonia was to be comprehensively beaten by Mir while commentator Joe Rogan lambasted him for being overweight. That said, the shock of being outclassed by a man who by all reports he had thoroughly beaten in sparring may just have jolted Nelson out of a rut, as “The Ultimate Fighter 10″ winner seems to have dropped a significant amount of weight since May.

His fellow “TUF10″ alumni Matt Mitirone has also dropped weight in recent months, with the former NFL player having embraced the famed Dolce Diet to improve his conditioning and already impressive speed. Mitirone has been a revelation since entering the UFC, having finished all but one of his five opponents inside the Octagon and always looking very good on his feet while doing so. As is to be expected considering he trains with legendary kickboxer Duke Roufus, his striking has looked increasingly sharp, with Mitirone showing excellent coordination and, as against Christian Morecraft, considerable power.

Both “Meathead” Mitrione and “Big Country” Nelson are being asked to prove themselves against longtime UFC veterans. For Nelson, his fight against Mirko Cro Cop is an attempt to provide an easier match after he was found wanting against Mir and before that Dos Santos. In both fights Nelson failed to pose a significant offensive threat and instead put in a performance that could only be commended for his ability to stand there and take a beating.

Crop Cop may have once been the most feared striker in Pride FC but those days are long gone and today’s Cro Cop lacks the speed and the nerve to pull the trigger on his signature kicks. While some have exaggerated Cro Cop’s lack of punch resistance, there should be no doubting the ability of Nelson to land the type of telling blow that brought both Brendan Schaub and Mir dramatic victories against the Croatian.

Mitirone has a far harder challenge in Kongo, with the French striker rejuvenated after career-saving back surgery. In a heart-stopping fight back in June, Kongo survived two knockdowns to knock out Mitirone’s friend and training partner Pat Barry while still being on rubbery legs. Kongo may be something of an underachiever in the UFC, but he has only ever lost to the best, establishing himself as a solid gatekeeper. He brings a genuine kickboxing pedigree while his larger frame and genuine punching power complement a surprisingly effective offensive wrestling game.

Mitirone has looked good so far against the Tim Hagues and Joey Beltrans of this world, but this is a step up in competition. If he can find a way to defeat Kongo then he’ll have announced himself as a real contender in the heavyweight scene.

On Saturday, Matt Mitirone is looking to continue his impressive UFC run as while Roy Nelson needs to halt an alarming decline in his fortunes. Both are looking to secure the victory they need to feature near the top of the division. Indeed, in a division lacking in depth, a victory on Saturday may ultimately prove the springboard to an unlikely shot at the world title.

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