Matyushenko competed in his first mixed martial arts fight at the Battle in the Bayou back in September of 1997, Mike Tyson had only just taken a bite out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. The first Harry Potter book was published in the United Kingdom. Oh, and Steve Cantwell, Matyushenko’s opponent at UFC 108 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, was 11 years old.
Needless to say, the Belarus-born Matyushenko has been around the proverbial block a few times. What’s remarkable is that, a decade after beating three guys that night in 1997 for a $5,000 purse, The Janitor only seems to be getting better with age. He has won 10 of his last 11 fights, including a decision victory over Igor Pokrajac in his return to the UFC in Dallas this past September. See fighter profile
If you know anything about Matyushenko it’s that he’s the humblest man in the game, and his secret to longevity is reflected in his attitude.
“As soon as you think you’re good, it’s over,” says the one-time IFL light heavyweight champion. “You always have to adjust to the game, and that’s why I think old-timers like myself and Randy Couture and those guys can keep up with it, because we can adjust to the game.”
If you don’t know his story, Matyushenko has made a life of adjusting. It’s true that he was given his custodial nickname when, after beating Royce Alger and Kevin Jackson in a wrestling tournament in Russia, Mark Coleman teased his fellow Americans about losing to “the janitor.” Coming from a farm in Retchisa, Matyushenko was seen wiping the mats in tattered clothes the day before he beat the Olympian Jackson. The Janitor’s story is the stuff of the silver screen—like Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting, he was a janitor with a big asterisk . . . only instead of a genius for mathematics, he had a penchant for overpowering guys.
(He jokingly suggests that his “freakish strength” is a result of exposure to Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor).
The rest is history. When visiting New York in 1994 with the Belarusian national team, Matyushenko—on the advice of Alger, whom he wrestled at the tournament—didn’t return home with his squad. He stayed on in America, obtained a student visa, enrolled at California’s Lassen Junior College and promptly became a two-time wrestling champion.
And now he’s 38 years old, he owns a gym in El Segundo—VMAT—and his reputation has MMA hardcorists rolling out his name as a threat to the throne.
“I’m not the kind of person who goes around saying ‘I’m Vladimir Matyushenko,’ but it’s nice sometimes that you can touch people’s lives,” he says. “People send me letters that I’ve changed their life, and it’s kind of nice.”
Now he is training for his second fight on his second tour of the UFC. Matyushenko has mixed it up with the likes of Andrei Arlovski and Tito Ortiz when both men were in their primes, and he beat Pedro Rizzo, Tim Boetsch and Antonio Rogerio Noguiera en-route to a 23-4 overall record.
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