With a bout agreement inked and sent back on Tuesday, longtime MMA veteran Vladimir Matyushenko now has the official task of attempting to stop the rise of popular light heavyweight prospect Jon Jones in the main event of UFC on Versus 2, which is slated for Aug. 1 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Courtesy of a string of creative and impressive one-sided performances by Jones, Matyushenko, who has racked up consecutive victories over Igor Pokrajac and Eliot Marshall since returning to the UFC, will likely enter the bout as a decided underdog. It’s a role that he relishes.
“It’s a good thing. I like to be the underdog,” Matyushenko told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown Show” on Tuesday. “In this case, it kind of calms me down. It doesn’t make me angry and stuff, it just motivates me to train and prove everybody wrong.”
When the Matyushenko-Jones matchup was first rumored to be taking place a couple of weeks ago, some fans expressed displeasure with the pairing and pressured the UFC brass to give Jones a different opponent, preferably a top-ranked foe that would his test his mettle.
Despite all of the negativity, Matyushenko doesn’t feel slighted. Instead, the 39-year-old former International Fight League champion is looking forward to the opportunity to show fans that he remains one of the top fighters at 205 pounds.
“I don’t think of it as disrespect,” Matyushenko said of the fans’ reaction. “I think it is people somehow not being well-educated. These days in the UFC, the promotion (of fighters) is a lot greater than it was before. Still, the new generation of fans doesn’t really know who the older guys are. I’m one of the veterans of the sport and I’m here to prove that I’m still one of the best guys out there. That’s why I’m excited to be on the main card again. I’ll have to be in great shape and prove that I’m one of the best. I think that’s why the UFC didn’t put me on television at the start -- They wanted to see what kind of shape I was in and how I was going to do.
“The minds of the media and the fans have changed towards MMA. Now I feel like I can fight for these guys. Back in the day, I used to think, ‘Man, these are weird people’ but now I get mail from my fans almost every day. It’s incredible. When I wake up, I might be feeling sore from training and lazy, but now it serves as great motivation. I’m fighting for my fans right now, for you guys and for MMA in general.”
In Jones, Matyushenko finds himself going to head-to-head against another talented wrestler, albeit one who sports a dangerous arsenal of strikes as well. The puzzle Jones presents is one that Matyushenko, currently training alongside UFC veterans Antoni Hardonk and Jared Hamman at his gym in El Segundo, CA., is eager to solve.
“He’s definitely a talented and athletic guy. He wants to prove himself and I respect him very much,” Matyushenko said of Jones. “His style is very interesting and the fans seem to like it. Somebody has to stop him. It doesn’t seem like the fans want me to fight him very much but somebody has to do it. Why not another tough guy?
“He’s kind of hard to read because I know that he’s a different kind of wrestler but he also likes to strike. He’s a decent wrestler. He was able to take Brandon Vera down. It’ll be interesting though because we are both wrestlers. I’m going to try to please the fans with this fight. Earlier in my career, I didn’t really understand that, but these days, I’m trying to put on a good show. I don’t want to be known as a boring wrestler, but why change it if it works? When it comes down to it, you just want to win. My eventual goal is to fight for a title again and achieve my goal of becoming a UFC champion. This fight is going to be a big step (in that direction) for me.”