Light heavyweight Vladimir "The Janitor" Matyushenko, 43, laid his gloves in the cage Friday night, following a loss to Joey Beltran at Bellator 116 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California.
A former Soviet national wrestling champion, Vladdy defected to the West, speaking no English. He won Juco nationals in 1996 and 1997, and graduated from the University of Nevada in 1999.
That same year he became an MMA fighter, winning three fights in one night.
"Three fights in one night," he recalled. "And I'll tell ya, I didn't get hit at all... but my hands were freakin' swollen from just hitting the guys."
He went 4-3 during his latest UFC run, which ended just six months ago. He was the IFL light heavyweight champion, going undefeated in the league. During his first run the UFC, Matyushenko worked his way to a title shot vs. Tito Ortiz. He holds wins over Yuki Kondo, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, Pedro Rizzo, Carlos Barreto, Tim Boetsch, and Igor Pokrajac among many others.
The rise of mixed martial arts has seen a rise in the talent of writers covering, sometimes gracing the sport. Ben Fowlkes does remarkable work for MMAJunkie, seemingly every day. Jeff Wagenheim for SI could write a truly compelling grocery shopping list. Loretta Hunt, also for SI, is another must read if you love MMA.
To this list add Shaun Al-Shatti for MMAFighting. Friday he took one last drive with Vladdy Matushenko, from West Los Angeles to Temecula. It's beautiful.
"I remember talking to some top MMA promoters, including Dana White and those guys, Joe Silva -- nobody thought it was going to grow this big," Matyushenko says. "In a way, it's a miracle.
"Now there's a lot more that goes into it. It's becoming more sophisticated. And in a way, I like this, because it's not brawling anymore. It's not just guys coming from the bar, getting drunk and saying ‘let's fight.' It's a science.
"MMA, I think, is the hardest language to speak. You can go between Russian and Chinese or whatever -- but MMA, it's like an alien language."
"The wildest story is when I broke my nose," said Matyushenko. "I went to fight in Brazil against Carlos Barreto. He was a big huge guy, and I don't know what my manager was thinking. He was like, no, you're going to get this guy. The guy is like 265, on steroids. I just watched him hitting pads and he's breaking these pads, like... dude, okay, I'm going to fight him?
"He kicked me as hard as he could. I remember my hands were up. Whack! Broke my nose. He freakin' tore his knee! He fell down and had torn his knee just because he had kicked so hard! He just falls down and I'm looking around like, what the hell just happened? After that we go in an ambulance, this little tiny ambulance, and they put the sirens on. In Brazil nobody cares, they're all cutting in front of us. We're both laying in back of the ambulance, and I'm like, man, is this a dream or something?"
"Maybe I was procrastinating too, or maybe I should have retired earlier. But it's fun to fight. People watch you on TV, people recognize you in public places and say hi. It's a good time.
"It doesn't matter who it is, when they raise your hand, that's the best feeling in the world. A lot of fighters, we fight just for that feeling. Not for the money or the fame or whatever, but just that feeling, it's very addictive. And when the referee raises your hand, and all the audience is clapping, it's... wow."
Other members of the old guard, the Randy Coutures, the Chuck Liddells, they left with another concussion and one more regret. By contrast, Matyushenko departed on his own terms, his pride tucked firmly in his back pocket and a fulltime West Los Angeles coaching gig straight ahead of him.
"I'm completely happy," Matyushenko reflects. "I wish I achieved a little more. I wish I won a few more fights. But I'm happy, and I'm not done with MMA. I like what I do. Hopefully it's not my last interview, and I'm going to be coaching some big champions and you guys are still going to call me up.
"To the fans, I just want to say thank you. Without you, I wouldn't have done it. And I definitely wouldn't have fought for that long, that's for sure. So, thank you."
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