Australia’s young rising star Jake Matthews has faced his ups and downs in the octagon but a move up to welterweight seems to have rejuvenated his career. Matthews picked up arguably the most impressive win of his career when he beat Li Jingliang at UFC 221 making it 2 straight wins at welterweight.
It didn’t come without adversity though as after a back and forth fight, Matthews was able to sink in a tight guillotine and had Jingliang in all sorts of trouble. Struggling to fight off the choke, Jingliang stuck his fingers in Matthews’ eyes forcing him to let go.
Bloodied with blurry vision, Matthews stayed composed and was able to push forward and throw offense for the rest of the fight. It was two separate incidents that caused all that damage to his eyes.
“The cut was from a head butt actually,” Matthews explained. “Some people think it was the eye gauge or an uppercut but it was actually a head butt. The eye gauge was actually on the other eye. It was on the left eye so I couldn’t see from that and I had blood on my right eye so it was a bit hard to see for the last round.”
Despite the late adversity, this was his most polished and well-rounded performance to date. The move up to welterweight seems to be paying dividends.
“I think it was my best performance to date,” Matthews said. “I still feel like I have a lot more to show. That fight showcased my hands a little bit but I still believe I’m a lot more technical. I showed my resolve and that I can keep a high pace the whole fight and show my toughness but I think I still have a lot more to show in terms of being smarter with my striking. It was good to finally go out there and show people that I can stand up in a fight.”
And while many people felt like Jingliang should have been disqualified for the eye gauge, Matthews was happy that no controversy was able to overshadow his performance.
“I was actually glad I didn’t get the guillotine because it made for a better fight and I would have been devastated if he was disqualified,” Matthews said. “You never want to win by disqualification. People would have questioned that maybe Jingliang could have won the fight so I don’t think you could have scripted the fight any better.”
“At the end of the day it is fighting and people can do whatever they want. I don’t condone it at all or think that it’s right but I understand if someone does it out of sheer desperation. It’s his job at the end of the day and he can just get a warning or a point deduction. It’s not the way to go about it but I do understand when fighters do it.”
This was Matthews second win in a row since moving up to 170 and he is already feeling the difference. Having to no longer make the drastic cut down to lightweight is making the whole process a lot more enjoyable for him.
“Welterweight is much better,” Matthews explained. “I was pretty lethargic in there and didn’t have much energy at lightweight. Even if I’m fighting the bigger guys at welterweight I’m still going to be fresh. I’m not cutting much weight and I think that’s the best way to go about it.”
“Even though I’m fighting heavier, I feel quicker. When I get hit I don’t feel like I’m getting rocked whereas at lightweight I’d get hit and I’d feel dazed a little bit obviously because of all that fluid loss. My chin is better now, my fitness feels better and I have more strength.”
With two fights in the past 3 months and back to back training camps, Matthews is looking to take some time off. He plans on returning at the end of the year.
“I’m good to go but training for this last one in Perth was early in the year so I trained during Christmas and didn’t get much of a holiday then,” Matthews said. “So, next week I’m off to the Philippines for a holiday then I get back and I go to a couple of treks in Tasmania just enjoying the middle of the year a little bit.”
“I’m still going to be training a little bit so whether it’s going to be in Australia at the end of the year or if the UFC want to put me in an international card at the end of the year October, November I’d love to get on there. Probably next year I’ll try to get 3 fights in.”
And with a big win over the surging Jingliang, Matthews find himself in familiar territory. He was close to hitting the lightweight rankings before back to back losses to Kevin Lee and Andrew Holbrook, encouraged his move up to welterweight.
He is ready to take the next step forward that will propel him to the welterweight ranks.
“I’ve had a look and everyone above me is someone that I heard of and someone that is well known so it would be an honour to fight anyone that’s ranked above me,” Matthews said. “It’s a bit of a step up when you get to the top half of the division so there are a few names that stand out but at the end of the day I’ll leave it up to the UFC.”
Training all over the state, Matthews has always stayed close to home. Despite having to move around quite a bit, he has managed to make his training regimen work, training with some of the best fighters in the country.
“We don’t have these super gyms in Australia so you have to go out and source the best training that you can,” Matthews explained. “I have to travel an hour in one direction to go striking, another direction to go to wrestling, I go an hour into the city to do jiu-jitsu but that’s what I got to do to make it work.”
“We’re getting better at breaking down those barriers between gyms that rivalry and getting people together to train so myself and Dan Kelly, we got a good group of guys, some of the best guys in our state Victoria. We’re getting them together and getting some good sparring sessions. We’re getting Australia’s top kickboxers in, top wrestlers and we’re starting to get that super gym feel and a team feel. It’s making it more enjoyable and I think it’s the next evolution for the sport.”