By Matt Kaplan
Matt “The Law” Lindland has been clinching, smothering, and dirty boxing his way through the MMA world since the days of wrestling shoes in the Octagon. He’s fought alongside and against some of the very best in the world and was a fixture in the top-ten middleweight rankings for years.
A 2000 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling silver medalist and Team Quest charter member, Lindland went 9-3 during his UFC middleweight tenure and earned a 2002 title shot against champion Murilo Bustamante. After leaving the UFC (Google his UFC 54 t-shirt controversy), he moved up in weight classes to fight Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Fedor Emelianenko (in Russia), he won his two IFL Super Fights as the coach of the Portland Wolfpack/Team Quest, and he was the hardcore fan’s dream opponent for Anderson Silva.
Although Lindland has been inactive for nearly a year-and-a-half, he has yet to hang up his fingerless gloves. “I’ve never won a world title, so it’s kind of hard to retire,” explained the 42-year-old Lindland, whose focus today is on leading wrestling and MMA seminars, overseeing his SportFight promotion, and coaching his Team Quest MMA fighters.
Inspired by Ring Magazine’s “The Best I’ve Faced” series, here’s the legendary Matt “The Law” Lindland looking back on a long, hard-fought career and remembering those opponents who stand out across the following categories:
Best boxing: Vitor Belfort. With boxing it all starts with your footwork, your movement, and he has explosive hands and hips. And not just the night I fought him. He’s got consistently good boxing.
Heaviest hands: Robbie Lawler. (laughing) I don’t really remember too much of that fight, but, yeah, he hits very hard, and he’s knocked out lots of really good fighters.
Toughest chin: Tony Fryklund. I hit that guy with some bombs, but he just wouldn’t stop. He was real tough.
Best wrestler: Mike Van Arsdale. Mike was a great wrestler, and I watched him wrestle for a long time. Remember, when he and Randy Couture fought, it was scramble after scramble; that was a great fight.
Most intelligent: In terms of ring strategy, I’m going to go with David Terrell, another southpaw, for the way he came out and approached that match-up. It was a quick fight; he knocked me out early. He came out with a good strategy.
Most powerful: Phil Baroni, for sure…for sure! Now, I did fight Fedor, but that was two weight classes above me, so if we’re talking middleweights, I’d exclude Fedor and say Phil Baroni. Quinton Jackson was also a pretty explosive athlete. I’ve fought some pretty strong guys. I’m more of a leverage fighter: I use my length and my leverage to my advantage, rather than go strength against strength.
Most punishing kicks or knees: I don’t know. The only guy who really kicked me and that I really felt it afterward was Ricardo Almeida, but every time he kicked me, he’d eat a left hand. It wasn’t a really good exchange for him. I had a few bruises on my leg, and he ate a bunch of left hands.
Most dangerous ground game: Jeremy Horn, for sure. He’s tapped out so many dudes. Jeremy Horn was one of the best guys. He’s fought for world titles and was an incredible ground fighter. Very dangerous.
Most surprising: Travis Lutter. When he swept me from the ground, I was completely shocked. I took him down, thought I was going to completely dominate the top position, and he swept me and got on top to a mount position. He definitely surprised me with that.
Most underrated: Joe Doerksen. He’s so tough. He was game and tough. He was trying to submit me and almost caught me in some stuff. I was thinking I’m going to choke him out or knock him out, but he was still there. Joe Doerksen is a really tough dude. Very underrated.
Most complete fighter: I fought a lot of really good fighters and most of them had strengths in more than one area. It would have to be Pat Miletich or Jeremy Horn. They’re good on their feet, good on the ground. It’s a toss-up between them. And they’re both on the same team.
Best overall fighter: Fedor. He was a legend. He was the best heavyweight, pound for pound, for a while, but we saw him age as well. I think Russians get old faster.
Sweetest victory: Probably my win against Pat Miletich. He was a world champion, someone who’d done it all in this sport, and I had an opportunity to fight him in one of my earlier fights. I was very excited about that. I went out there and finished him in the first round.
Most bitter defeat: They’re all bitter, man. They all suck. It’s hard to get old in this sport, and you can’t do it forever. I guess my most bitter defeat would be the split decision loss to Rampage Jackson. I guarantee you the fix was in on that fight. I whooped his ass. I clearly won two rounds…When you compete against world-class athletes, someone’s going to win, someone’s going to lose. I understand. That’s what the sport is, but when the judges just completely rob you in a show that only promotes one athlete, like the way the WFA was only promoting Rampage Jackson, it was very clear that I won that fight and that they robbed me of that fight. I’m not bitter against Rampage; he went out there and fought the best he could. But I still whooped his ass. Do I sound bitter? I’m not really a bitter guy.