Vladimir Matyushenko Excited About MMA’s Progress
There is something poetic about Vladimir Matyushenko sharing the UFC 129 main card with Randy Couture this weekend in Toronto.
Couture is the poster boy for the 40-plus set still competing at the highest level in the sport; a legend who has been at or near the top throughout his illustrious career. Then there is Matyushenko, a fellow fortysomething who has taken a much different path to the historic event unfolding in Canada’s largest city on Saturday.
While “The Natural” has spent the majority of his career competing for titles and residing at or near the top of a pair of UFC divisions, Matyushenko has made his way to the biggest MMA stage in North American history through hard work, perseverance, and a passion for the sport.
The 40-year-old Belarusian started his career in 1997, defeating a trio of opponents at IFC 5: Battle in the Bayou in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Since that time, “The Janitor” has battled through the darkest times in the sport’s history in North America by competing in a number of different organizations on four continents. Now he’s a part of the greatest period of success and growth the sport has enjoyed, and its something Matyushenko doesn’t take for granted as he prepares to square off with Jason Brilz at UFC 129.
“[Competing at this event] means a lot to me, and I’m very, very happy and excited to be part of it; I’m happy for myself and also MMA in general. It’s an historic event. It’s an achievement not just for the UFC, but for the fighters, promoters, fans and media, and I’m just glad that MMA has come this far.
“People are always asking me about my age, ‘How long you still going to be fighting?’ and it’s one of the reasons I’m still fighting – because it has become so much fun. The sport is getting to the point where it’s actually nice to do it, you know? Where before the general public’s perception was different, the government’s perception was different, and promoters were not at the same level they are right now. Right now it’s just really fun to do it.”
Though questions about retirement are understandable, Matyushenko’s impressive 25-5 record to this point in his career, and 3-1 mark since returning to the UFC in September 2009 show they are still premature. As the inaugural IFL light heavyweight champion pointed out, his lone loss since returning to the Octagon came against a pretty talented opponent.
“I lost to Jon Jones, but he’s the champion right now. Every fight I do, I’m not going backwards. I won my last fight, and I’m looking forward to having this one. Every fight is getting better.”
This pairing with Brilz is an opportunity for the two somewhat overlooked stalwarts of the light heavyweight division to earn some deserved time in the spotlight.
The Nebraska native earned Fight of the Night honors in his pay-per-view debut against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, losing a split decision many thought should have been scored in his favor. Unfortunately, Brilz was unable to capitalize on that momentum, as an injury pulled him from an earlier pairing with Matyushenko late last year.
After a series of injuries and substitutions, the two will finally face off on the pay-per-view broadcast with a chance to showcase their combined grappling acumen to a massive audience.
Of course, when two wrestlers meet in the cage, there is always the chance a kickboxing match ensues, and if it does, the former light heavyweight title contender will be prepared.
“It’s a big possibility; I might try to steer it there because I have a slight reach advantage, and I’d like to try and use it as much as I can.”
No matter what happens on Saturday night inside the Rogers Centre, Matyushenko is pleased to have fought his way to a point where MMA and its athletes are getting the recognition they deserve.
“MMA was in the shadows; you didn’t see guys on the cover of magazines, and right now, it’s a big sport. Everybody’s getting recognition, including myself, and it feels great.”
Be sure and catch Fight Day on April 30 at 6pm ET.