Vladimir Matyushenko has been training for an opportunity like this his entire life.
"The Janitor" is ready to clean house this Saturday on MMA's largest stage, the main card of UFC 129 in Toronto, Ontario in front of 55,000+ screaming fans.
The light heavyweight former title contender is a veteran of nine UFC fights and he's ready to impress as his MMA career enters its twilight years. It all starts with his Saturday night bout with Jason Brilz. Matyushenko laid out exactly what makes Brilz such a difficult opponent at this stage in his career.
"He's a tough guy, just look at his record. He had a lot of wins and he fought a lot of good guys. Some of his losses he has are not even losses. I thought he did really good against Nogueira in his last fight. He's very dangerous and he's always in shape. He's also the assistant wrestling coach at Nebraska University so he's going to require some very physical training. I think it's going to be a really good fight."
Time and time again, you'll see two distinguished grapplers neutralize themselves in the cage and their match turns into a stand-up war. "The Janitor" is prepared for wherever this bout may go.
"I think one of my advantages is my reach and if I can use that utilize it, It's gonna be great. But again, if you concentrate on striking too much, it leaves openings for takedowns so I'll have to be careful with that. But yeah, I'd like to see myself show the fans more striking, that's for sure."
"(Jon Jones) obviously did his homework before my fight and he probably watched a lot of tapes. He did exactly the same thing to me that I've done to other guys throughout my career. I was thinking 'wow! That really works' and I put myself in a bad position and couldn't get out fast enough. After my fight with him, we met at the bar and I told him ‘you'd better become champion (laughs).or I'll come back and kick your butt.' You saw from his last fight (against Shogun) so it makes me feel better that he's the champion now."
While the veteran wrestler is almost never one to call for fights, there is one man he has unfinished business with, and that's Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. "The Janitor" currently holds a 1-1 career record against the Brazilian, and he wants revenge for the knockout Nogueira handed him at Affliction: Banned in 2009. Even with the half guard master losing two consecutive fights, the potential bout hasn't lost any luster in Matyushenko's eyes.
"I was a little bit sad that Nogueira lost his last fight. I was hoping that he'd win and I was gonna win and we'd make a fight. It's up to the UFC and most of all, it's up to the fans. I think if the fans desire to see us match up, then that's how it's happening. I fought Nogueira a much longer time ago and that was in the ring where the rules were a little bit different. The Brilz/Nogueira fight was much more fresh. I can definitely see some openings there and some good things and bad things."
In preparation for his bout with Brilz, Matyushenko put in considerable time with esteemed heavyweight jiu-jitsu black belt, Fabricio Werdum. He believes there are many strategic advantages to training against someone so talented and outside his own weight class.
"I trained with (Fabrecio Werdum) a couple times and will be training with him again very soon. I think he's just a really good partner for me. His jiu-jitsu is pretty good. It's an MMA type of jiu-jitsu and also, he's a heavyweight so I don't have to worry about potentially having to fight him because right now, especially with the merging of UFC and Strikeforce, everybody is a potential opponent. Now I have to train either with 185-pounders or heavyweights and Fabrecio is a really good sparring partner for me."
"The Janitor" turned 40 at the beginning of 2011, but he still feels like he can compete at the highest level. Not every fighter can be Randy Couture, but he'll continue to fight as long as the fans are happy to see him in the Octagon.
"How long I compete is up to the fans. So far, so good. My body feels good and I don't feel like quitting. As long as the UFC is willing to pay me and the fans want to see me, I will fight. I think most of the fighters, they fight for (the emotional high after winning). All the money and the fame doesn't work if you think about it right before the fight. It's kind of addictive in a way. The rush before a fight and there's so much stress. After the fight, if you win, all that stress is relieved and it feels great. Fighters need to fight. Sometimes it lasts a few months. This last time, I took some off, went to Europe, went to Brazil but eventually it gets boring and you gotta start wondering ‘when's my next fight?' and the clock starts ticking. It kinda goes in circles like that."
Matyushenko closed the interview with his fight prediction for Saturday night.
"I'm gonna go in there and try to knock him out with everything I've got. If it were that easy though, it would be boring and nobody would watch it. We sold out all the tickets because people want to see close fights."
For the full audio of my interview with Matyushenko, click here.