Vladimir Matyushenko seeks one last title run. | Sherdog.com
When Vladimir Matyushenko made his professional mixed martial arts debut on September 5, 1997, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was just two months removed from his 10th birthday. At a time when many of his contemporaries are either struggling on regional circuits or bowing out of the sport altogether, the 40-year-old Belarusian continues to compete at the highest level.
A former International Fight League champion, Matyushenko will meet Jason Brilz in a featured matchup at UFC 129 “St. Pierre vs. Shields” on Saturday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. There, they will be greeted by the largest crowd ever to witness an MMA event in North America, estimated at some 55,000.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, the man they call “The Janitor” discusses the keys to his sustained success in MMA, his secret green thumb away from the cage and how he would write the ending to his stellar career.
Sherdog.com: You’re roughly 14 years into your professional fighting career and have accomplished a great deal. What keeps you motivated at age 40?
Matyushenko: The fans, for sure. Nowadays, the fans are so much louder and more involved than they used to be. MMA has become a lot more fun in the last few years because the fans are everywhere. The sport really didn’t have that before, so they keep me going. Â
Sherdog.com: How has mixed martial arts changed since you entered it in 1997?
Matyushenko: The public reception is huge now. There’s media everywhere. It used to be that no one wanted to talk about fighting because we were looked at as brutal guys, you know? Now, it’s a full sport. It’s not boxing versus jiu-jitsu or karate versus kung fu. It’s a more complete sport that’s fun to be a part of. There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep fighting, but I kept going and I’m glad I did. MMA has developed and evolved so much that it’s great to be a part of that.
Sherdog.com: What has allowed you to be so successful for such a long period of time?
Matyushenko: I learned throughout the years how to be smarter with my body. I learned to recover, train and compete more efficiently, and, most importantly, I learned to evolve with the sport. It’s actually a lot easier now than it was before because we’re not learning gigantic chunks of new moves after every fight. There was a time when everyone was showing something new and it was hard to keep up with it all.
Sherdog.com: What kind of advantage is your experience at this point in your career?
Matyushenko: I know what to expect. I know what’s going on. Some people get shocked and overwhelmed when they see the fans and the lights and hear the crowd roar, especially in front of full arenas. I don’t.
Sherdog.com: Has the way you prepare yourself for a fight changed as you’ve gotten older, and if so, how?
Matyushenko: I’m more careful who I spar with, and I think everyone should be like that. I used to pick any old training partner, but that’s really dangerous. I am very selective on who I spar with now because it has to be someone who will push you but not break you. I’ve seen guys go too hard and get injured before a fight. It’s a bad idea. You have to spar with people you can learn from. The Internet helps, too. There’s so much information out there now, when there wasn’t a few years ago.
Sherdog.com: How long do you plan to continue to fight?
Matyushenko: I get this question a lot lately. MMA has become so much fun. The sport is getting to the point where it’s actually nice to do it, you know? 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, so I don’t see me stopping anytime soon.
Sherdog.com: Who is the best fighter you have fought during your career?
Matyushenko: Jon Jones. He’s the champ and beat me pretty good. I’m glad he’s been so successful. Now I know I wasn’t beaten by a nobody.
Sherdog.com: What challenges does Jason Brilz pose as an opponent?
Matyushenko: He’s good everywhere. He’s a good wrestler and a good striker. He showed a lot of tenacity against [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira, so he’s dangerous everywhere.
Sherdog.com: What do you think it will be like to fight in front of 55,000 people in Toronto?
Matyushenko: 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. I’m looking forward to it.
Sherdog.com: Who or what has had the greatest impact on your career in MMA?
Matyushenko: My losses. I hate to lose. My coaches and my son have been a big influence also.
Sherdog.com: Is there anything unique about you that MMA fans may not know?
Matyushenko: I started gardening. I live in southern California where there’s always good weather, so I figured, why not? I grew up in farm town. We grew onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and a bunch of stuff. I already have tomatoes coming in now.
Sherdog.com: How do you feel about your son, Roman, pursuing a career in MMA?
Matyushenko: He’s young and talented, so it’s an option if he wants it. He’s 6-foot-7 and has been training since he was 12, so he could be successful. He has good coaches and good training partners, so we’ll see. He has not had any fights yet.
Sherdog.com: You have split to fights with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Does a third match with him interest you and how would you feel about fighting him in Brazil?
Matysuhenko: Absolutely. I’d love that fight. Â
Sherdog.com: If you were able to write the script, how would your MMA career end?
Matyushenko: I’d make a run at the title and beat Jon Jones to avenge that loss. What else?