If you haven’t heard of Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko, it’s not your fault. He’s been flying under the MMA radar for years now. Although you won’t see him on anyone’s Top Ten fighter rankings, he’s one of the best light heavyweights in the sport. The Belarusian-born fighter sports a 28-4 record with wins over opponents such as Pedro Rizzo and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. His career dates back to 1997 with stints in the IFC, IFL, Affliction, and the UFC among others. His most recent MMA success was in the now-defunct IFL, when he became their light heavyweight champ in 2008.
The 39-year-old fighter will make a second run at the UFC light heavyweight belt this weekend when he faces a fighter that many consider the next big thing, Jon Jones, in the main event of UFC on Versus. “The Janitor’s” first run was way back at UFC 33 when he was defeated by Tito Ortiz in a title fight. Although he’s not directly in contention for a belt this go around, a win over Jones will do wonders for his chances.
Although there hasn’t been a lot of talk about Matyushenko’s title hopes, he feels he’s already earned a shot. It’s just a matter of proving it to everybody and being ready when his name is called.
“You got to be at the highest level first (to be in title contention talk),” Matyushenko said. “And I am. I just need to prove it. If I win this fight, I definitely can prove that I’m there. In the end, it’s up to matchmakers and the promoters, and sometimes it's kind of luck. Somebody gets hurt; somebody pulls out of their fight. The opportunity is always there. That’s why it’s important for me to stay in shape all the time. I have to stay healthy and be at that top level non-stop.”
Not that Matyushenko is looking passed Jon Jones, but a rubber match against Antonio Rogerio Noguiera is bout he would like to be involved in on his way to a title run.
“I think a fight against Nogueira would be a good one. I respect him as an opponent. I think a lot of fans would like to watch that one.
Next January, Matyushenko will join a small, but elite group of mixed martial artists that are still doing battle in the Octagon at the age of 40 or greater. Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell are two of the most notable members of that group. Despite the age-factor, the 39-year-old feels he’s still capable of becoming a championship with his experience being the biggest advantage he has over fellow light heavyweight contenders.
“Randy Couture was winning championships at my age and even older,” Matyushenko said. “I definitely wish I was younger, but I certainly can’t go backwards when it comes to my skill level. I can only gain, with more training and more experiences.”
Although retiring isn’t something that Matyushenko has even considered for the near future, his next few wins (or loses) could dictate whether he hangs up the gloves and retires as a UFC fighter.
“Wins and loses means a lot,” the Belrusian states. “If I keep losing, it doesn’t make sense to go forward. “But even winning, I’d like to see myself, if I’m able to do it, just win a championship and just step out (and retire) like it used to be. It’s okay to be a champion and say, I’ve had enough. I’m happy right now with the UFC. I’m glad to be back in the action. I’m glad to be in the main event. I just don’t want to be fighting until the wheels fall off. I don’t want to be that guy.”
Despite the fact that Matyushenko is entering the twilight portion of his career, he feels his bout against Jon Jones is the biggest fight of his career and he’s been preparing diligently for their eventual clash on August 1.
“This fight is an important fight in my career. Either way it goes; it’s going to bump up one of us to the next level and definitely open some doors. I’ve been training with Antoni Hardonk, Jared Hammond, and Fabricio Werdum. I haven’t trained this hard in a long time.”
Techncially, his opponent Jon Jones is 11-1 in his MMA career, but in reality he’s a fighter that has yet to face anybody that has been able to figure him out. Jones’ only loss came way of a disqualification when he utilized downward elbow strikes to Matt Hamill in a bout that Jones was clearly on the verge of winning prior to the offending strike. Matyushenko, who won the first eight fights at the start of his career, is ready to capitalize on what he considers the weaknesses of being undefeated.
“The fact that he hasn’t really lost a fight yet, is a downfall or a weak point in his young career,” Matyushenko states. “I think maybe it’s good for me, because if I give him enough trouble I can weaken him mentally.”
Although the former IFL champ sees some chinks in the armor, he’s fully aware of how dangerous of a mixed martial artist Jones really is.
“Any fight is my toughest fight,” Matyushenko states. “If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll pay dearly. But (Jones) is young, He’s strong. I have fought tough opponents back in the day. But that was back in the day. Now is a different time. I think he’s a pretty tough opponent. Between his age, time in the cage, athletic ability and the fact that he’s hyped up and all the media and stuff like that. It makes for a tough fight dealing with all of those things. I treat all fights as the toughest fight of my life. Maybe that is why my record is not that bad. I’ve competed against top wrestlers back in the past, but that doesn’t mean anything today. I don’t underestimate (Jones) at all.”
In spite of Matyushenko’s solid career, he will be a significant underdog on Sunday. The betting lines have Jon Jones as a -600 favorite. It’s a position that the long-time MMA veteran relishes.
“I’m okay with (being the underdog),” Matyushenko said. “Being the underdog doesn’t become a problem to me. I like being the underdog. It kind of relaxes me and gives me less pressure as far as from any body outside. I just get to train and do what I’m doing. Actually it makes me a little pissed off as well. And a little bit angry. I’ve got something to prove. That’s a good thing when you go to fight.”
Game plans aside, it’s likely the experiences gained during his 32-fight and 13-year career will dictate how Matyushenko will react to Jones’ dynamic style and potentially lead to a victory.
“He’s going to come out with everything he’s got in the first round,” Matyushenko states. “It’s kind of dangerous to stay away from him. I’ve got to keep him on his toes, I’ve got to keep the pressure on him, and that’s my only chance to beat him. Just wear him out and keep going and going.”