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Bellator 141: 'Healthy' AJ Matthews kicked the bottle ... now he wants to kick Emiliano Sordi

Five-time Bellator MMA veteran A.J. Matthews makes his return to the cage on later this month (Fri., Aug. 28, 2015) in Temecula, Calif., for a tough Middleweight showdown with Emiliano Sordi. And a life-changing accomplishment has given him new focus going into the fight.

Bellator MMA

"Pinoy Punisher" is ready to make a run to the top.

Bellator MMA currently lacks a Middleweight champion thanks to Brandon Halsey missing weight at Bellator 137, leaving the door wide open for a new contender to emerge in the weight class.

Enter A.J. Matthews (7-3), who was originally scheduled to face Ben Reiter at the aforementioned show, but he was replaced by Benji Radach because of injury. He's now healed up and ready for a new challenge at Bellator 141, which takes place inside Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2015.

Matthews has previously competed four times at Welterweight in Bellator (and once at a 175-pound catchweight), but is making the step up here to take on Emiliano Sordi, 13-4 and winner of four straight, including his Bellator 128 debut.

Matthews recently sat down with about the step up in weight class and competition, what his plans are at Middleweight in Bellator, and why he decided to move up to fight Sordi.

"100 percent of the move up in weight is because I've had two shoulder operations. When I was at 170 pounds, there was just no meat around my shoulders. I felt that was the reason that every single day, I'd go to train, my shoulder would come out. Every single day. So I got a little more meat, my shoulder hasn't come out, and I feel fast -- I feel strong. I train with a lot of high level 185, 205 guys, and I have been for the last five years at Alliance. Going up against someone bigger isn't going to be anything new."

What is new for Matthews is sobriety, a stunning revelation made in the middle of our interview.

"Nobody knows this, this is the first time I'm gonna say it: I'm an alcoholic, but I'm a recovering alcoholic now. This is the first time in my life that I didn't go into a training camp drunk and out of shape. My whole body composition is different. My mentality is different. My weight cut is gonna be easier because I'm in shape. It's a really exciting time for me. I'm almost in tears."

Whether a fighter or a layman, the journey to recovery is not an easy one, and in either case people often "bottom out" before making such a huge life change. Matthews is no exception in that regard.

"I'm like a bottle of (Jim) Beam a day kind of guy. I'd drink half a bottle at night alone for no reason. I woke up the next day and I needed to teach. I couldn't operate without alcohol, so of course I tried to drink the rest of the bottle, but I was running late so I had to leave, and then my student wanted to grab coffee. I could see my mind work and find a way to get home to the bottle. So I go 'Oh uhh - do you want to go now? Maybe we can clean up and then meet for coffee.' And the only reason I said that was so I could go home and drink the rest of that bottle. I looked at myself in the mirror and that was it man. I went to my first AA meeting that Thursday, May 21, and everything's different now."

The revelation of Matthews' hard-fought sobriety is commendable. It not only changes Matthews as a person, it gives him an opportunity train for fighting at a whole new level. He'll need all of his skills for the streaking Sordi.

"I don't underestimate anybody, I just, I really look forward to it. I'm a pro boxer too so I hit hard. I took a boxing fight and I won (by) third round knockout. The emphasis and the focus though is MMA, but I appreciate all the arts -- sweet science, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu and wrestling. I feel like Emiliano and I are both extremely well rounded."

Matthews also has got booking ideas for how Bellator MMA can use him following the Sordi fight if he picks up the win.

"I'm saying throw me in a tournament homey! All you other Middleweights, let's do it. I'm gonna tweet these guys. Joey (Beltran), Kendall (Grove) and (Brandon) Halsey. Let's do a one night tournament."

To get there, he has to first go through Sordi, but Matthews says he feels like a trash compactor at the junkyard -- powerful enough to crush anything put in front of him ... even "Stitch 'Em Up" Joe Schilling.

"I think Joe wants to fight me. I respect him. I think it would be great if him and I fought Bellator, GLORY, and then Premier Boxing Champions. I think it'd be sick. Just like a trilogy of all the different arts on Spike."

Matthews has so many ideas that he may appear to be game planning too far ahead, but he's setting his sights on Middleweight gold and preparing to knock down one foe at a time with his legwork training at Blackline and Alliance.

"The fight's a blank canvas, I don't want to start painting before I get there. I'm going to kick his leg (though), so you can tell him if you talk to him -- check the kicks."

Emiliano Sordi, consider yourself warned.

Check out the complete audio of our interview with Matthews below and complete Bellator 141 coverage is right here at


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