Bellator 204: “Caldwell vs. Lahat” comes to Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., this Friday night (Aug. 17, 2018), featuring a special non-title fight between Bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell (12-1) against Featherweight fighter Noad Lahat (12-3) in the Paramount Network-televised main event.
In addition, an intriguing battle looms at 170 pounds as Logan Storley — who hails from nearby Webster — is an unbeaten (8-0) Welterweight who learned his craft from Brock Lesnar. If farm boy strength and hard work is enough to get the job done, Storley may just rise through the ranks all the way to the top. However, no one can question that A.J. Matthews (9-7) is working hard, too, though. The 10-fight Bellator veteran has had some had breaks between knockout losses, corner stoppages and being on the wrong end of split decisions. His “never say die” attitude, though, has made him a well liked fighter who recently scored a hugely emotional win over popular Hawaiian fighter Kendall Grove.
Matthews recently spoke MMAmania.com about whether or not he can stop the Storley hype train in Sioux Falls, starting with a look back to his big win at Bellator 193.
“When you’re standing there with the ref and he’s about to raise somebody’s hand, man, you never know if they’re going to get it right or wrong, you know? But yeah, I’m a pretty emotional dude, Kendall’s a fucking super good friend of mine so obviously that fight was tough for both of us.”
Matthews describes the outcome in cathartic terms, which should come as no surprise given it snapped a four-fight skid, including a bout so close it could have been scored either way.
“For me it was a lot of things that came to fruition. I’ve been fighting pro for more than 11 years now, training for 16, I’ve dropped the ball a bunch of times. That was one where I felt like they didn’t have to give me that opportunity, but I also feel like they counted that Fialho fight as a win, so then they gave me Kendall, you know what I’m saying? I just knew that I had to make the most of the opportunity. I just had the right people around me, and I had the right attitude to have that one come true.”
With that pivotal victory over the winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3, Matthews can bounce from January’s main card right into the television mix against local favorite Logan Storley; but, Matthews has his fans, too.
“Aw man! The crazy thing is is that’s like my home as well. My grandma lives two hours from Sioux Falls. My grandma, my cousins, my aunts, my childhood friends from the west side of the state, they’re gonna be there, man. It might not be 50/50, but that’s not all his place.”
It should come as no surprise then that this fight was a draw for people making their way to Sanford Pentagon on Friday night. Matthews hopes that his experience edge will lend him an advantage.
“(Storley’s) training with the best team, you know he’s training with (Henri) Hooft and Robbie Lawler — all those gangsters over there. The time that I’ve spent inside of the cage and in training, it all evens out, man. Yeah, there’s gonna be some things where I’ll be a little more comfortable, but man when you’re young and you believe in yourself the way that he does it’s still gonna be tough.”
Matthews also comes in with the expectation that the young Storley — a protege of Brock Lesnar — will put all of his University of Minnesota wrestling credentials to work in this fight.
“Yeah, yeah for sure but, there’s a wrestler named Ben Reiter who was a Middleweight in Bellator for a while. In that one you know what I mean I wasn’t ... I didn’t do too hot, but that’s a big strong wrestler and I can punch through it man, I don’t care. Nobody intimidates me.”
In fact, Matthews actually prefers to face wrestlers compared to other styles of opponents.
“When you think about guys like that, you don’t think that it’s like ... when I sign a contract to fight a wrestler, right? Almost in the back of your mind you’re going it’s not like fighting me or, I don’t know, Lima or ‘Venom’ Page. Guys with sharp elbows and knees and kicks like, ‘Damn that might be painful for a while after the fight,’ you know what I mean? There’s that thought that goes in guys’ heads. And when I signed a contract for this, it’s like, not that it’s not there — that fear of pain — but it’s less than someone who I think is gonna smash me with their shin, (a) Hisaki Kato, you know what I’m saying?”
Kato is definitely a guy you don’t want to get smashed by. Knowing that he has a stylistically pleasing opponent and some crowd support even on Storley’s home turf has Matthews pumped up to fight.
“Yeah, the guy’s a sick wrestler (but) I’ve got some jiu-jitsu, and my striking is pretty sick, I think it’s an interesting fight. It’s so cool to be in South Dakota, against Logan, co-main, you know what I’m saying? All these other things like ‘Am I worried?’ or ‘What am I thinking about?’ Man, I just wanna do me. Like these last couple fights, the preparation is for me, the fight I just want to go out there and really express myself in the fight. I don’t want to hold back, because when I hold back, that’s when he has times to take me down you know what I mean? That’s when you lose, those milliseconds, things that were important positionally. For me I just wanna go do my thing.”
See the veteran Bellator fighter A.J. Matthews “do his thing” this Friday on Paramount Network.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Caldwell vs. Lahat” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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