by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
You would be hard pressed to find a fighter as, competitive, tough, driven and star-crossed as Matt “The Law” Lindland is in the sport of MMA. For every ounce of sheer determination that courses through his veins there is an equal amount of circumstances that have oddly accumulated against him throughout his career.
How else could you sum up an individual that has a 15-3 record, had been the consensus number one ranked fighter in his weightclass for years, and yet still be denied the world title he is so deserving? To put it simply, this man should have been a champion a long time ago and should be viewed as one of the absolute true greats in the sport, but instead he finds himself consistently on the outside looking in on others who are far less deserving than he is.
On sheer work ethic alone Lindland has forged a competitive career in Greco-Roman Wrestling and MMA that compares to the best of any sport. A Silver Medal winner at the 2000 Olympics, Lindland came from almost out of nowhere to place among the top wrestlers in the world with his effort built almost solely on hard work.
Upon entering into the sport of MMA full-time later in the year Lindland, who had already had three previous fights in 1997, was brought into the UFC right away to capitalize on his Olympic fame and quickly established himself as a force in the 185lb division. This was no flash-in-the-pan athlete from another sport looking to scrape out just a little bit more fame, this was a true warrior looking to conquer anything that got in his way, and Matt did just that.
Upon winning his first four bouts for the UFC, Lindland carved his way through tough competition such as BJJ black belt Ricardo Almeida, nemesis Phil Baroni, and MMA living legend Pat Miletich, earning a shot at Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante at UFC 37.
Matt’s match with Bustamante looked to be eventual culmination of one of the fastest rising stars in the sport, but instead it became a pinnacle that Lindland would not return to. Upon losing to Bustamante in the third round via guillotine choke of their match-up, Matt would continue unfettered through the ranks of the UFC, only to be held back by red tape.
Lindland would win three of his next four bouts, only losing once via freak accident, and yet for his efforts he was not rewarded with a contract extension and became a free agent. Many felt that while he was a great fighter, his style was not flashy enough nor his personality marketable enough to be a headlining fighter in the UFC, despite being the company’s most consistent performer.
After beating Tony Fryklund at a Rumble on the Rock event, Lindland was brought back at UFC 49 to face youngster David Terrell in a match that could determine a spot in a match to determine the new 185lb Champion after the defection of Bustamante in 2003. Matt, perhaps determined to prove critics wrong about his style, left himself open uncharacteristically to a shot from Terrell and was KO’d 25 seconds into their fight and was out of the UFC again.
After winning his next two fights in Cage Rage and his own Sportfight organization, Lindland watched his former teammate Evan Tanner win the Middleweight Championship that Matt had so desired for many years. With a champion now in place the UFC needed contenders for the belt and again brought back Lindland to have to prove himself yet again worthy of a title shot.
With promises of an eventual championship match should he continue to win, Matt defeated Travis Lutter at UFC 53 and then saw Rich Franklin beat Tanner for the title a few months later. Again with more promises of a title shot looming overhead Lindland defeated Joe Doerksen at UFC 54 and it appeared that he could no longer be denied his chance for gold again.
Yet somehow the powers that be frowned up on Matt, regardless of his success, and just days after his win over Doerksen, Lindland was released from his UFC contract amidst questionable circumstances. What more was there for Lindland to prove, why was it not his time after years of diligence and loyalty, when would he get his shot?
Those are the questions that surround Matt, but rather than sit on the sidelines contemplating answers, he chooses to do what he does best, compete and overcome. At this weekend’s Cage Rage event in England, Lindland returns to action for the first time since being released by the UFC to face former Pride fighter Nino “Elvis” Schembri in a match of contrasting styles.
No frills straightforward smothering aggression is how you could sum up Lindland’s fighting style. He uses selective strikes to set up the takedown and from there he mauls his opponent until they can take no more. It may not be pretty, but it’s one of the effective attacks in the sport today and Matt executes it to perfection.
Conversely Schembri, a former BJJ standout, has made his career of doing just enough to survive and sometimes win in fights that have gone the distance four out of six times. Schembri plays position and has only finished two of his fights, once by submission, the other a fluke KO of Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 25. Even having joined Chute Boxe a year ago, Schembri’s stand up has yet to show itself and he’s lost his last three fights after winning the first three.
Conventional wisdom would say that Schembri’s best strategy would be to submit Lindland, but that’s not easy. Lindland has only been submitted once in his career and has avoided attempts and dominated submission specialists such as Almeida, Lutter, and Doerksen. So unless Nino can land a flash KO, it looks to be business as usual for Matt.
With a win and a reported three-fight contract in the works with the WFA, Matt Lindland could continue to further establish himself as possibly the best fighter in MMA to have never won a belt. A loss at this point could be critical as the only way for Matt to get a title shot is to continue to make it so promoters can’t keep him out, and the only way to do that is to win.
Lindland is determined to be a champion some day and until then his opponents can be sure that he’ll take out his frustrations on them. And that’s the last thing anyone in the sport wants to deal with, a highly skilled warrior with a chip on his shoulder and a fiercely competitive fire that can never be extinguished.