Bellator’s A.J. Matthews: A Young Wanderlei Silva?

If you ask Bellator middleweight A.J. Matthews, he’s not looking at his next fight at Bellator 162 as strictly a bout between himself and Hisaki Kato.

“I see Kato as a young Mirko Cro-Cop, and I see myself as a young Wanderlei [Silva],” said Matthews (8-5), as he prepares to face Kato on Friday, Oct. 21. Kato is probably best known for being on both sides of a memorable knockout – his victory over Joe Schilling at Bellator 139, and his knockout loss to Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 146.
But Matthews is taking nothing for granted as he prepares to step into the cage with Kato.

“I’m ready to just win – I have nothing to prove with my chin,” Matthews said. “I just think I’m a better fighter. I’m not gonna be a dummy and just start swinging. I’m going to be a technical fighter; I’m better on my feet and I can make better adjustments.”

Matthews is looking forward to making adjustments to his career after suffering back-to-back losses in both Bellator and on the first Rizin Fighting Federation card late last year. Although Matthews suffered a knockout loss in Rizin, he loved every minute of his time in the Land of the Rising Sun.

“I fell in love with Japan,” Matthews said. “It’s an amazing place, and so sacred. I saw Fedor [Emelianenko] in the corner, and I cornered Brennan Ward while I was there. There are generations of families in Japan, and I get why the old-school K-1 and Pride guys live in Japan. People like me in Japan, and I want to try and run it back in Rizin. But that’s not important right now.”

Matthews’ full attention is on getting his career back on track in Bellator and get back to the fighting ways that started when he moved to California when he was 14 to live with his half-brother. It was there that Matthews started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his half-brother’s garage alongside other fighters like Manny Rodriguez and Jason Lambert.

While Matthews attended California State University-Los Angeles on a soccer scholarship and also ran track, it was when he helped his teammates prepare for mixed martial arts bouts that he knew what his calling was.

“I knew I was put on this planet to fight,” Matthews said. “Once I graduated from college, I started fighting full-time.”

Another part of Matthews’ journey to get his career back on the winning track includes his ongoing effort to emerge from a battle with alcoholism. Matthews has been sober for over a year-and-a-half, and credits his training with helping with his recovery.

“I had an outlet in jiu-jitsu and grinding in the gym with the guys,” I said. “So I didn’t need that other stuff anymore. I’ve had no nerves the last couple fights, which is both good and bad. But I’m dialed in with my heart and head where it needs to be.”

Matthews’ fight with Kato will actually be his very first one to be shown on broadcast television, which is one of multiple reasons why Matthews wants to make Bellator his permanent home.

“They’ve seen me grow,” Matthews said of Bellator. “It’s my company. They want me there. I’m really happy here, but it’s so funny. I always wanted the next best thing, but Bellator is the best thing and I owe it to them to give them what I have in the cage. Just thinking about beating someone up in a cage on Spike TV? It’s a good feeling.”

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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