Bellator heavyweight tournament semifinalists not down with UFC 229 post-fight melee

(This story originally appeared in Wednesday’s print edition of USA TODAY.)

Bellator heavyweight Matt Mitrione isn’t just facing Ryan Bader for the right to advance in the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix. He fights to make sure he’s not the loser buying beer.

Mitrione, who turned 40 in July, is a father of three and more concerned about that dad life once his work is done at Bellator 207, which takes place Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. (Paramount and DAZN, 9 p.m. ET).

Whatever his opponent has or hasn’t said about him in the buildup to a fight, you won’t see Mitrione starting anything after the final bell.

“Once the fight’s over, the fight’s over,” Mitrione (13-5 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) said. “I don’t really care enough about somebody I just beat.”

The melee started by UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 after his win over Conor McGregor has provided much fodder for this week’s water cooler chats. But in the MMA industry, it’s also sparked a conversation about what is and isn’t out of bounds before the gloves go on.

Nurmagomedov may have started the incident by launching himself into the crowd post-fight, but many have accused the UFC of setting the stage for the brawl that spoiled the ending to a blockbuster event. For the fighters competing in Bellator’s eight-man tournament, three-fourths of them with UFC pasts, responsibility starts with the individual.

“When the bell rings, you shake hands and walk away,” said three-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen (30-15-1 MMA, 2-1 BMMA), who meets ex-PRIDE champ Fedor Emelianenko (37-5 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) in the semifinal opposite Mitrione-Bader at Bellator 208 on Saturday. “You settle your dispute there, and sometimes you have a glorious moment, and sometimes you’ve got to hang your head like the skunk at the garden party. But either way, you shake hands and walk away.”

Sonnen has done no less throughout a career as one of the most prolific trash-talkers in MMA. The 41-year-old Oregonian once insulted the entire nation of Brazil in the run-up to a fight with Anderson Silva. But after Silva earned his comeuppance, Sonnen stayed silent – until the rematch.

Light heavyweight champ Bader (25-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) has steered clear of religion and ethnicity when promoting his fights. For him, the incident in Las Vegas only proved that as far as MMA has come, it still has a long way to go as a civilized sport.

“We’re not 100 percent mainstream,” he said. “People look at us like we’re hooligans, even though we’re not. I think it’s bad for the sport. Me personally, I’d like to see the sport keep evolving to the point where we’re looked at like other professional sports organizations.”

Emelianenko, who shares Nurmagomedov’s Russian heritage, believes MMA athletes are some of the strongest people in the world. He said they have a greater duty to stay above unsanctioned violence.

“Fighters have a responsibility to act normally,” he said through a translator. “It’s very important to be able to control yourself and never actually use your physical strength in everyday life.”

When Emelianenko first faced off with Sonnen to promote their fight at Bellator 208, he had just knocked out ex-UFC champ Frank Mir. He certainly could’ve answered with his fists the many insults hurled his way over the years by Sonnen. Instead, he grinned, shook hands and walked away.

For more on Bellator 207 and Bellator 208, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

Read the full article here: Bellator heavyweight tournament semifinalists not down with UFC 229 post-fight melee