Vladimir Matyushenko: Transcending Eras

Photo by Josh Hedges (Zuffa)

In a sport where great fighters can fall hard in a moment’s notice, the fans are eager to greet the newest evolution of the MMA fighter, the next big thing. This Sunday, it’s the phenomenon known as Jon ‘Bones’ Jones who headlines on the Versus channel. But the man he’ll face—Belarusian émigré Vladimir ‘The Janitor’ Matyushenko—sees this as his big chance to add a quality name to his own list of wins.

Among his training partners, he looks no further than Fabricio Werdum, who not only defeated Fedor Emelianenko, but finished him with a first-round submission, for inspiration.

“It just shows that anybody can win—even the underdog. We were actually just talking about it, [Fabricio] was saying, ‘You can win, don’t worry, I was the underdog, too.’”

Vladimir understands the reality of Jones’ 10-1 record, among Jon’s wins are durable journeymen like Stephan Bonnar and Brandon Vera. Even Jones’ sole loss via disqualification to Matt Hamill for using illegal elbows demonstrates the dominance of the 23 year-old fighter rather than any weakness (outside of misunderstanding the rules, that is).

“He’s a strong opponent,” says Matyushenko, “It’s going to be interesting.”

Equally indicative of Vladimir’s own mental toughness is his bout with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (little Nog) at the January 2009 Affliction show. According to Josh Gross’s column at SportsIllustrated.com, the Belarusian’s groin muscle was torn clean off his pubic bone.

“It was one of the worst injuries that I ever had,” says Vladimir, who took the fight purely for financial reasons, eventually losing via second round knockout.

One would expect excitement at the prospect of being included in the new EA Sports MMA videogame, but Matyushenko is a working man without time for such distractions or hobbies, saying “I’m not a big fan of video games, I don’t really play them. My son does.”

Vladimir was given a flat fee to appear in the game, although now he’s free to sell his likeness to new MMA videogames since the original contract is up.

There’s no ambiguity when asked about which promotion he prefers, “I think the UFC is the best. Right now, I’m really happy to be with it.”

UFC fighters can count on many benefits due to the superior organization of Zuffa—cancelled fight cards that leave athletes on the hook are unheard of, unlike promotions like Affliction or Shine Fights. There’s also a regular paycheck from frequently scheduled fights, meaning more opportunity and exposure for guys like Matyushenko, not to mention the wide availability of opponents.

“There’s a lot of good guys in the [UFC] 205 division,” says Matyushenko.

Vladimir has a special history with the organization, since he first fought in the UFC from 2001 to 2003, racking up a 3-2 record during that first time period. He notes that the caliber of opposition was always very good, and that the biggest shift in recent years has really been in public perception and media coverage of MMA.

Matyushenko is more than a fighter, he’s a survivor. While on a tour with the National Belarussian freestyle wrestling team, he made the choice to stay in the US at the age of 24 with just $100 in his pocket and no English. Then supporting a four-year old son, describing the crumbling Soviet empire as “anarchy,” there was no turning back despite any hardships faced through immigrating. As it stands, America has proved to be that better place where Matyushenko not only found a place to live, but a home where he belonged.

For many fans, the August 1st show is where they hope to see Jon Jones further himself in his quest to dominate at light-heavyweight, or perhaps heavyweight. Nothing is written in stone—if it was, bright prospects like Brandon Vera would have at least gotten a taste of the title instead of fizzling out at two weight classes.

For every second of every minute inside the cage, Matyushenko is going to remind the world of his experience, acumen and confidence. He didn’t get here alone, and always counted on others to guide him, but he makes sure to let his appreciation show.

“I’d like to thank all of my teammates,” concludes Vladimir, “They know who I’m talking about.”

Follow Vladimir Matyushenko on twitter here for more updates: http://twitter.com/vladthejanitor