Bleacher Report caught up with UFC light heavyweight Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko just in time for his upcoming fight this Sunday on UFC Live on Versus against Eliot Marshall.
The 39-year-old Matyushenko has a memorable back catalogue of fights against big names such as Tito Ortiz, Rogerio Nogueira, Pedro Rizzo, and Andre Arlovski. The Belarusian wrestler also touched on being among the older competitors in the UFC, James Toney, his nickname and the Fedor drama.
JS: What can you tell us about your fighting background and what inspired you to get involved with MMA?
VM: I’m a wrestler from Belarus, but I had been fighting back from the days of growing up in a rough neighborhood. I got a little bit of training at prep school where I had boxers for roommates. I learned a little bit about fighting back then but competing is a completely different thing.
JS: Under what circumstances did you come to the U.S.?
VM: The situation in my country was crappy; there was a lot of unrest in Russia at the time and a lot of gangs. A lot of people were into that stuff but I was a young father. That’s why I moved here, so I wouldn’t end up dead or in prison.
I was in the military and my last tour was in ’94 in the States. I liked it, so I stayed. I started wrestling in college and training others, but there wasn’t much money in wrestling.
Then I saw Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie fight and thought I can do that too. I jumped into it. It’s like learning a different language, training boxing and striking and all that stuff. Some people don’t survive it and some people do pretty good—I guess I’m one that has done pretty good.
JS: Speaking of those Hall-of-Famers, do you have any heroes or fighters you admire in MMA?
VM: There are a lot of people to admire. I try not to admire the other fighters because I have to fight them (chuckles).
There’s Randy Couture, he’s an old-timer and he’s still going. I look at that and sometimes I think maybe I’m getting too old, but I’m looking at him and if he’s gonna fight, then I’m gonna fight for another five years that’s for sure.
JS: How has your body held up and responded to the rigors of training and fighting at the age of 39?
VM: I’ve definitely gotten smarter, but I definitely wish I was younger too. Back in the day, I’d just keep training rough because my body could afford it. I felt faster back then too.
Now, I’m getting even smarter, I’ll keep training looking for different opponents. Plus, there’s been a lot of improvements in training technology, the supplements, and different training methods certainly help. I feel fine, I feel healthy, I feel great.
JS: For someone like 46-year-old Randy Couture, who has aged gracefully to say the least, to defy grandfather time into his late 40s is an incredible accomplishment. Is that something you see yourself doing as well?
VM: Oh, definitely. I’ll keep going until I can’t. There’s a turning point in MMA right now with it being recognized by other sports, media, and fans. People are starting to respect it, it’d be a shame to quit right now. That’s why I’m mostly doing it; it’s actually a lot of fun to do right now.
JS: What are some of the disadvantages of fighting at your age?
VM: (Chuckles) There’s always disadvantages, it’s hard to do. The hard work is always worth it though. There’s nothing like winning a fight, it’s the most addictive drug ever. You go through everything; all the training and the pain to have your hand held high during victory while the crowd goes nuts.
JS: Do you have a dream opponent? Someone you would love to fight if you have the opportunity?
VM: No, not really. I want a rematch with Tito and Lil Nog, but the 205lbs division is so stacked, there are a lot of good fighters to fight. I don’t have anyone in particular right now and Eliot Marshall is next, we’ll see after that.
JS: Speaking of your upcoming opponent, how was the training camp this time around and did you do anything different for Eliot Marshall?
VM: You have to train in high altitude because he is a Denver local. So I spent some time at Big Bear and a few days in Colorado. But yeah, you have to watch out for his submissions, his triangles and arm-bars, but otherwise, you know…just beat him up.
JS: How do you see this fight going?
VM: Marshall will try to keep it standing until I feel uncomfortable and want to take him down to the ground where he will try some of his tricks. We’ll see, I don’t want to give up all the secrets.
JS: Where you think a win over Marshall puts you in the light heavyweight standings?
VM: It’s definitely another step up the ladder. You have to keep taking those steps; you always have to be prepared in this game. Overall though, I don’t think too much about rankings.
JS: Do you pay attention to rankings or what the media writes about you?
VM: No, no. That stuff isn’t really true, it’s more public opinion. Maybe if you had a tournament, like a K-1 thing, then you could determine who is the best.
JS: You would interested in the UFC doing something like that?
VM: Hypothetically, yes. Technically, no. It would be good for the fans but for the fighters it would be hard not to get injured.
JS: Like many in the fight game, you have a pretty interesting nickname, “The Janitor.” How did that come about, who gave that to you?
VM: It was the late 80s in Russia. I just got out of my military unit because I was getting into a little trouble. My commanders said, “Go to the big wrestling tournament and don’t come back without a medal.”
I was 18 years old at the time going to this pretty big tournament, an Olympic invitational. At my weight there was Kevin Jackson, he was already a champion, who went to win the Olympics later on that year. There was Mark Coleman too. I was there cleaning the mats after the American team was there working out and making weight. The mats were kinda funky and stuff.
So I was cleaning the mats, switching things around in my street clothes, looking like a janitor. After I worked out, I went on to wrestle them and beat them all. Their coaches would make fun of them for losing to the Russian janitor, “he doesn’t wrestle, he just works here.”
JS: What are your opinions on all of these Fedor and co-promotion drama between the UFC and M-1 Global?
Janitor: Business wise, co-promotion is good for people who co-promote. It’s a good opportunity to make some money, but you can see the UFC is stable and has been for a decent period of time while other promotions are falling apart.
There’s been a lot said about how the UFC runs its business but the main thing is they’re stable, they keep going. They have three shows this month. For me as an employee, I’m happy, it’s a good job. I mean Affliction was supposedly doing good and only had two shows before going under.
JS: Will we ever see Fedor in the octagon?
Janitor: It’s a possibility, but time wise, I don’t know how long that would take to sort out: five years, ten years? If it does happen, hopefully it will be soon because none of us are getting younger.
JS: What are your opinions of athletes like James Toney making his transition into MMA?
Janitor: I just don’t want to see these stars jumping in fighting nobodies. If this guy is talking crap and really wants to fight, put him against a really good fighter and see what he’s really all about. If he wins, he wins. There’s only one way to find out.
JS: Is it safe to say the Janitor is calling out Mr. Toney? Would you welcome him into the octagon and fight him?
Janitor: (Chuckles) Definitely, why not? I’ll fight anybody the UFC puts in front of me, I’m an employee.
JS: What should fans except from the Janitor in 2010? What are some of your goals?
Janitor: The title is definitely a goal, to be on top, but it’s gonna take a bit more time. I’ll probably get there maybe this year, maybe next. I’ll do everything possible not to disappoint my fans and show them what the Janitor is all about.
JS: I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to talk to us. You can go ahead and take center stage to say any lasting words or shout outs.
Janitor: Thanks to all the fans. You guys kept improving, more so than most fighters do (chuckles). Thanks to TapouT, watch out for the new Janitor signature T-shirt. You can go to the website and check it out. It’s actually pretty cool, it has a Viking on it. Lastly, thank you guys at Bleacher Report.