Two big, grizzled veterans rekindle relations Friday night in the Bellator MMA heavyweight tournament.
Matt Mitrione (12-5) meets longtime fan favorite Roy “Big Country” Nelson (23-14) in the second match of the eight-man heavyweight grand prix at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
The Mitrione-Nelson victor will possess a size advantage in their semifinal meeting against the winner of the first-round bout that pits Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader and Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, who often competes as a light heavyweight.
In 2012, Nelson scored a first-round stoppage victory over Mitrione when both competed for the UFC.
Mitrione signed with Bellator in March 2016 and has already secured three consecutive wins, including one over legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who is also slotted on the opposite side of the heavyweight tournament.
In that bracket, Chael Sonnen defeated Rampage Jackson by unanimous decision last month at the Forum.
Like those two, Nelson defected from the UFC.
Oddsmakers have set Mitrione as the favorite to win the tournament.
“Because I’m the best heavyweight that Bellator has … . I have the best and most impressive record in Bellator. There’s nobody else that holds a candle to who I am as a fighter at this moment, I believe,” Mitrione said.
Nelson’s beer belly and bearded, blue-collar appearance has made him a fan favorite.
“I think the Vegas books got it all wrong, but I don’t mind at all. I love to make some money off the Vegas casinos,” Nelson said of the underdog status.
“I’ve already beat him once and I’m sure Matt isn’t the same fighter. I don’t see how this fight will go any different.”
Much has been said about the advanced age of the participants in this tournament, but Nelson appreciates the opportunity.
“I know the end is near for me, but … if I win this tournament I might have to stick around for a little while longer,” Nelson said.
He teased about the possibility of landing his own Paramount Network television show with a tournament belt, but Nelson has appeared in some small acting roles and said he will soon begin filming “Kickboxer 3” with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Mike Tyson and Snoop Dogg also have roles.
Mitrione also earns extra income as a Bellator television analyst.
“I’m happier than a pig in slop,” he said.