by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
A lot has changed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the six years since former light heavyweight title contender Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko last competed in the famed octagon.
In the span of six years the promotion has broken through to the mainstream, with the help of reality television, and is now arguably the fastest growing sport in the United States.
With the company’s newfound financial success and heavy event schedule, fighters such as Matyushenko have been welcomed back to the promotion, and he couldn’t be happier.
“It feels good,” said the soft spoken Matyushenko to MMAWeekly.com. “It’s like going back home.
“I never lost contact with the UFC. I’ve been cornering guys there, and it’s the same kind of feeling when you’re fighting when you’re cornering someone. You walk out and pretty much everything feels the same. I’m glad I’m back now.”
Since he last fought for the promotion at UFC 44, the biggest change Matyushenko notes is the company’s more consistent fight schedule, which he feels is a plus.
“I think they did a good job to keep up the show at a decent level (considering) the fact that they were losing money, but it was hard to see it,” he stated. “The fact that they’re doing a show almost every three weeks is great.
“It’s great for the fighters, and a lot of people will have an opportunity to fight on the shows.”
While he was able to bounce between heavyweight and light heavyweight, Matyushenko’s focus is now on the 205-pound division full time, which itself has seen a change over the last several years.
“It’s definitely much more competitive,” commented Matyushenko. “You see all kinds of fighters now. I think it’s a more crowded weight category at 205 in the UFC, but again, it’s a good thing.
“Because they can hold a show every three weeks, there will be enough fights for everybody and will show who is the champion. When you throw only a few shows a year, it’s hard to say that you’re a champion and that guy’s not, but now it’s more like a sport. It’s like wrestling, where I come from; you have to fight a lot to prove who you are.”
Matyushenko’s opponent for his UFC return is Igor Pokrajac, a member of Mirko Cro Cop’s team who will be making his UFC debut.
“It looks like he’s well-rounded,” said Matyushenko. “He’s got a lot of experience, with almost 30 fights, but I don’t see anything that’s extraordinary.
“I think Igor is just a big tough guy who is good on the ground, good standing, and has some good wrestling good too. I better be prepared for everything.
Should things go well against Pokrajac, the question was raised whether Matyushenko would like a rematch against fellow returning UFC veteran Tito Ortiz in the future.
“Yeah, definitely, (but) I don’t think it’s going to happen right away,” replied Matyushenko. “I think the UFC wants to see what kind of shape I’m in, and if I put on a good show and good win (against Igor).
“Definitely I think me and Tito could bring some viewers.”
As trends come and go and come back again, everything old is new once more, and Matyushenko looks to be a testament to that with his opportunity in the current era of the UFC.
“I want to thank all my sponsors; Tapout, Cage Fighter, Strada Wheels; and my gym, V-MAT, and all my sparring partners,” he said. “The fans have changed the face of the UFC. It’s no the fighters, it’s the fans who changed the perspective and the way society looks at MMA, thank you to them.”