Vladimir Matyushenko Still Learning at 42 and Looking to Shed Gatekeeper Role

Steven MuehlhausenContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2013

Photo from InsideFights.com
Photo from InsideFights.com

When you're 42 years old and in the fight business, you usually are at the point of where you're retired and either training fighters or out of the sport. Exceptions are out there like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Dan Severn. They are few and far between. It is like that because of the nature of the sport and the punishment that the fighters receive.

We can add another name to this list of fighters still continuing their careers. Vladimir Matyushenko, the former IFL light heavyweight champion, started fighting in 1997 and will continue his journey  as he faces Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox 6.

As you get older, times change in the sport. The way you diet and cut weight is a big factor, as it is harder to lose weight when you get older. For Matyushenko, it is all about balance.

"I try to balance eating right and training hard," Matyushenko told Bleacher Report. "I used to train two or three times a day. Sometimes you just don't have the energy, so your forced to eat small portions of food."

You hear stories from fighters who say they train up to four times a day. As you get older, though, that slows down due to the natural wear and tear of fighting. The native of Belarus feels when you are starting in the sport, you have to train more, but when you keep advancing in your career it does change.

"You have to train not necessarily harder, but smarter," Matyushenko stated. "For up and comers, you have to train a lot. You have to spar a lot just to find your style and find who you are. With my age, I can just improve the style I have and sharpen them up. When I have to train as hard, you still have to be in shape. Recovery time is important. You have to train smarter, not harder."

After being in the sport for 15 years, you would think there is nothing else to learn. For "The Janitor," you have to keep learning to keep up with the new age of fighters.

"You have too (keep learning)," Matyushenko stated. "If you don't then you are pretty much done. A few years ago, I didn't have that material to work from. Now there's so much material to learn from because there's so many good fighters."

At the age of 42, being an active fighter isn't likely for a lot of fighters. For Matyushenko, retirement was supposed to happen a long time ago, but he feels MMA is cool and better now than it was 15 years ago.

"I thought about retirement ten years ago (laughing)," Matyushenko stated. "With the circumstances today, MMA is cool to do, especially where the UFC is right now. You don't have to worry now about fighting for a paycheck and making sure the check doesn't bounce from the bank. Now we have health insurance and stuff like that. I think all these things extend our life spans of being a fighter."

His opponent, Ryan Bader, lost his last fight to Lyoto Machida by knockout at UFC on Fox 4 in August. Matyushenko feels they are similar fighters, but feels Bader is now in the prospect category due to losing big fights against Jon Jones and Machida.

"It depends on what he (Bader) thinks of himself," Matyushenko stated. "He's a prospect. He's done being a contender. He had some good matches and in those matches, he lost. He did good in the beginning (of his career). I think a lack of experience, not just his overall, but his experience with Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida. Those are top guys.

"We are pretty similar fighters. I'm a wrestler, he's a wrestler. He's been working on his striking and has gotten a few knockouts in his career and so have I. It is a good matchup."

Dana White has said in the past that if you get by Matyushenko, you are a serious contender in the light heavyweight division.

Jon Jones beat Matyushenko in August 2010, and Jones is currently the UFC light heavyweight champion. Alexander Gustafsson beat Matyushenko at UFC 141 in December 2011, and Gustafsson has main-evented a card, with a co-main event slot at UFC on Fox 5. That defines what a gatekeeper is in MMA. Matyushenko is looking to shed that title and make a run at the belt.

"What you want and what you got are two different things (laughing)," Matyushenko stated. "I want to be the champion. Some people think I'm god, but some people call me a gatekeeper and some call me the janitor. The only way I can change that is to improve my performance and become a champion. If I would have beaten Jon Jones, maybe I would be viewed differently.

"I have to shape myself up and show what I got. It is tougher to fight there (205 pound division) especially right now. A few guys from Strikeforce are coming over like (Gegard) Mousasi. It is going to to be interesting."

Unless otherwise stated, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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