No two fighters arrive at the UFC having traveled the exact same path, and the journey Tateki Matsuda has traveled is nothing short of extraordinary.
It's not that the Japanese fighter stepped up on short notice to face Chris Beal this Friday at Fight Night 50, because he did, but in the hectic, fast-paced environment that has become life under the UFC banner, 11th-hour opportunities for UFC hopefuls have been coming in greater frequency.
Despite just having won a bout for a lesser-known promotion earlier in the month, "Tech" jumped at the chance to compete on the biggest stage in mixed martial arts.
Again, while stepping up to make what he describes as a "dream come true moment" become reality is a notable accomplishment for the 28-year-old, when the larger picture of Matsuda's life is examined, his quest for excellence is in a category all by itself.
In the six years during which the Team Sityodtong fighter has been competing as a professional mixed martial artist, he's also been diligently working toward academic accomplishments. Matsuda first acquired his bachelor's degree in sports movement science and recently earned his master's degree in applied nutrition for fitness from Northeastern University.
Academic accomplishments of that nature require a tremendous amount of focus and discipline, and Matsuda continuing to progress his career in MMA at the same time is an exceptional feat.
"I originally came to the U.S. as a student, but after I finished my college degree I wanted to stay in the U.S. and train with great fighters," Matsuda told Bleacher Report. "My options were to stay as a full-time student and train at the same time, or go back to Japan and enter a new network and career there. I chose to stay in the U.S. and I actually was able to get a professional athlete visa.
"It was a long journey to get to a master's degree because I had to train and teach at the same time. Now, my goal this year is to become a UFC fighter and start my other career as well."
With his collegiate goals checked off his list, the Boston transplant will be making the biggest step in his journey in combat sports this Friday night, and he'll be looking to make another dream come true inside the Octagon.
Getting the last-minute call to step in and fight under the UFC banner isn't how he envisioned arriving to the premier organization in the sport, but Matsuda wasn't about to let an opportunity of this magnitude pass him by.
"The last three or four days have been crazy because it was a sudden-notice fight," Matsuda siad. "I didn't expect my dream to come true like this, but this is the moment I have been waiting for. Well...not necessarily waiting for exactly, but it is what I have been working hard to get. I just do my job and I have another dream now. On Friday night, I will step into the cage—just him and I—and I will do my best. That's it.
"I consider the position I'm in as that of a pinch hitter. On Friday night, if I do a good job then hopefully I will become a regular member of the UFC. That's why I am taking this chance on a life-changing opportunity."
When Matsuda steps into the Octagon with Beal at Fight Night 50, it will be the culmination of years of hard work scrapping it out on various regional circuits around the sport.
When the double duty he's pulled in his life throughout that time is taken into consideration, Matsuda's drive and determination become readily visible for all who care to look.
While he knows he will be fighting a dangerous opponent in The Ultimate Fighter alum, Matsuda's primary focus is on what he brings to the table. He's also quick to note his skills are still developing, but he guarantees he will give the very best he has to offer.
Matsuda has set up shop on the other side of the globe to make his academic dreams come true, and he'll pour that same fire and focus into the next one on his list...getting his hand raised inside the Octagon.
"I'm just trying to do my best in everything I do," Matsuda said. "I'm in a foreign country and I'm away from all of my family back in Japan. But things have come to me and I'm going to take this chance. Hopefully many people will like the way I fight, and I'm excited to get into the Octagon and fight.
"When I got the offer from the UFC, that was special, but this is just another fight. I just fought like a month ago and this will be just another fight for me. All of my opponents are always dangerous and I'm very confident. If I show what I have 100 percent, I'm going to win the fight. The only guy that can beat me is me."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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