(Warning: Do not try this at home. Listening to traditional Russian folk music while doing power cleans should only be performed by professionals. VidProps: YouTube/MMAWarehouse)
If the main event of tonight’s UFC Live on Versus fight card plays out like we all think it’s going to, Vladimir Matyushenko is likely going to need some moral support. Matyushenko’s methodical, wrestling-based style seems tailor made for exploitation by the younger, faster, more dynamic Jon Jones. At least that’s what UFC matchmakers are counting on (more on that later today). Bottom line: It doesn’t look good on paper for “The Janitor,” so if Matyushenko ends up getting beat up kind of badly tonight it would serve us all well to remember that he is actually a totally awesome dude who deserves a ton of respect.
After cutting his teeth in the international wrestling scene while the Cold War was still grinding to a close, Matyushenko frickin’ defected from his native Belarus to the U.S. while in New York for a grappling tournament in 1993. There aren’t a lot of other active MMA fighters who can say that. As the story goes, he and some teammates simply walked away from their hotel one afternoon and headed for the nearest political embassy. That, kids, takes some balls.
With almost no money and very little English Matyushenko managed to get himself moved to California and enroll in junior college, where the wrestling team was assumedly very, very happy to have him. He won two JuCo national championships and credits his coaches and teammates there for teaching him enough of the language to allow him to transfer to the University of Nevada (Go Wolfpack) and earn his degree.
Now, if that story doesn’t renew your faith in America, I don’t know what will. Maybe go watch “Red Dawn” or something.
Matyushenko had his first MMA fight in 1997 and then went 3-2 in the UFC between 2001-03. He fought both Tito Ortiz and Andrei Arlovski back when that actually meant something and after leaving the organization moved on to feast on lesser competition as the IFL’s only light heavyweight champion. He came back to the Octagon last year and is currently riding a two-fight win-streak in the promotion. Not bad for a dude who was serving his time in the Belarusian military back when Jon Jones was six years old.
The soft-spoken Matyushenko hasn’t exactly done a Sonnen-esque job of selling tonight’s fight against Jones, so it’s no surprise that he’s been mostly overlooked. It just doesn’t seem to be in his nature to talk trash. Also though, it’d be naive to think Matyushenko doesn’t know on some level that the UFC fully intends to use him as fodder for Jones’ career. But as the 23-year-old phenom rightfully gobbles up most of the headlines and prefight attention, we’d be remiss for not recognizing Matyushenko as one of the sport’s true success stories. No matter what happens tonight, Vladimir, you’re cool with me.