Hang around MMA fighters for any length of time and you’re bound to hear them say, “There are levels to this” sport. And as they rise through the ranks, the fights get more difficult as they advance from one level to the next.
Some would say that’s the lesson Bryce Mitchell, who had been a highly touted submission artist, learned in December when he faced Ilia Topuria at UFC 282 in Las Vegas. Both entered that fight unbeaten — Mitchell was 15-0 and Topuria was 12-0 — and expectations for a memorable fight were high.
That’s not what occurred, however. Topuria dominated Mitchell and submitted him in the second round. Sure enough, Topuria mentioned after the fight that there are levels to this game.
Mitchell, though, has a different thought. Yes, he was beaten soundly, but in his mind, the loss doesn’t even count.
He returns to action on Saturday at Apex on the main card of UFC Vegas 79 against Dan Ige in his first bout since the drubbing by Topuria. Anyone who expected Mitchell to be humbled or show up at media day with his tail between his legs doesn’t know Mitchell.
He’s ranked 10th at featherweight, two spots above Ige, and would be much higher if his fight with Topuria had gone differently. More on that in a moment, though.
But Mitchell, who in 2019 scored one of only three wins by twister submission in UFC history when he forced Matt Sayles to tap, has lost none of his bravado or belief in his skills.
“I don’t have to call out no names [after I win], but I think there’s going to be a realization that I’m the cash cow,” Mitchell said. “Eventually, somebody’s going to realize that they’re sitting on gold. They think I’m fool’s gold. I’m not. I’m real gold. They’re sitting on gold. They need to cash me out. I am the cash cow. There ain’t another pay-per-view draw like me in this division. I am the cash cow and it’s time to cash me out. I’m ready! I’m begging them. Please! Please give me a big fight. I’m begging them. I’m waiting.”
He might come across as unhinged given that he’s never headlined a UFC Fight Night card, let alone a pay-per-view.
But he’s in selling mode and doing his best to prove his point.
“Obviously, I don’t deserve none of that if I can’t beat Dan Ige,” Mitchell said. “That’s going to be a hell of a competition between me and Ige. But if I beat Ige, who’s to say that I don’t deserve a Top 5, a Top 3, a Top 2 [opponent]? Like I said, I’m the cash cow. They’re going to realize that and once they do, they’re going to love me even more.”
Mitchell had the flu when he fought Topuria but didn’t tell anyone what was wrong and refused to pull out of the fight. It wasn’t the wisest decision, but knowing that explains a lot of the things he says. Who knows how he would have done with Topuria had he been healthy? Topuria followed his submission of Mitchell by going out and putting on a jaw-dropping performance against Josh Emmett in his next outing, and that only increased his standing in the division.
Topuria is likely to challenge Alex Volkanovski next for the featherweight title, and Mitchell understands that had things played out differently, it could have been him in that spot.
Mitchell doesn’t seem unhinged or divorced from reality when he explained his emotions in the aftermath of the loss.
“It wasn’t the loss that so much bothered me because I’ve lost before,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been beat up in the backyard when I was a kid. I mean, that’s just how it is. The loss does not bother me. What bothers me is that my pride would not let me pull out of that fight. I shouldn’t have even been in that damn cage. I lied to my coaches. I would not tell them how sick I was because I didn’t want to appear as a coward, and I took the fight impaired. Then I had to live with the consequences. You know, it was just so stupid of me to think that I could go in in that state and beat such a great fighter.
“I won’t make that mistake again. It just made me look like an idiot. But that’s what I was mad about. It didn’t feel like it was even me in there. That’s what made me mad and that s*** doesn’t count. I want a rematch.”
The pros are right, and there are levels to the game. But maybe, just maybe, Topuria’s win over Mitchell didn’t prove as much as we thought on that night when he overwhelmed him.
Mitchell has a chance to redeem himself against Ige and, most importantly, prove to everyone that there are levels in MMA and that he belongs on the top one.