I’m a UFC pioneer: Matthews proud of impact in Australia
18th February 2020

Jake Matthews might only be 25, but the Australian UFC welterweight fighter sees himself as a pioneer of mixed martial arts in this country.

It wasn't long ago that cage fighting was still illegal in parts of Australia, and as one of the first Australians to earn a UFC contract, Matthews believes he has blazed a trail for MMA fighters from this part of the world as the sport continues to explode in the region.

"I think I was one of the first seven Australians to ever be in the UFC, the youngest Australian to ever be in the UFC, I feel like a pioneer," Matthews told The Age.

Jake Matthews, right, competing at UFC 243. Credit:AAP

"I was fighting locally back when the octagon was illegal, I was fighting back before all these other Aussie guys were in the UFC.

"Even though I'm 25, I've been in the UFC for about six years and coming into my 13th fight, so I get excited because I feel like I've paved the way for these other guys … and showed people it is possible to do it in Australia.

"I came from real humble beginnings, in terms of my training, training in my backyard in the shed and making do with what little training we had here in Australia, so I think I've done a good job to get where I am."

After going the first 24 years without a UFC champion, the Australasian region has produced three in two years with Israel Adesanya (New Zealand) and Alexander Volkanovski the current middleweight and featherweight title-holders respectively, while Robert Whittaker held the middleweight belt before Adesanya. As a result, Matthews believes the MMA world is finally taking notice of Australia.

"Us Aussies have always been able to hold our own, but now that these gyms are popping up and we've got more high-level fighters, so we don't have to go overseas to seek out good training partners, we can do it all at home," Matthews said. "The world knows now that we're definitely here to stay."

MMA is growing faster in Australia than anywhere else in the world, according to Matthews.

"Back four or five years ago, there wasn't any of the advertising on billboards or advertising on the radio, I think the market wasn't there," he said.

"Now we've just had the biggest [UFC] crowd [of 57,127 in Melbourne in October] at UFC 243.

"The amount of interest, the amount of people training at gyms, the amount of gyms that are popping up – that's probably the biggest difference I've noticed.

"You rarely get someone who opposes the sport versus five years ago, it was probably 50-50 people for and against the sport."

Australasian events are the Melbourne native's favourite ones to be part of and after fighting on that card at Marvel Stadium, Matthews (15-4) will be in action again in Auckland on Sunday when he meets Norway's Emil Weber Meek (9-4, 1NC) at UFC Fight Night 168.

Matthews feels that not only would beating the Norwegian serve as a launching pad for his bid to break into the welterweight rankings, but that he could be a top-10 contender after three more fights.

"This is going to be a high-paced fight, no doubt about that. The difference is going to be who can be the smarter fighter … I believe I can stay more composed," he said.

But Matthews is just happy to still be in the UFC after facing his mortality in the promotion when he fought, and defeated, Rostem Akman last time out.

"Coming off a loss and having a 10-month lay-off, you don't want to come in losing a fight – that could be your walking papers, pretty much," he said.

"So now this next fight I can go out, open up again and fight the way I do fight and obviously always going for the win, but win or lose I know I'm still in the UFC."

If he achieves a four-fight clean sweep for Resilience Gym on Sunday with teammates Jimmy Crute, Callan Potter and Ben Sosoli, not only would it prove that their gym is the premier gym in the country, according to Matthews, but it would also serve as his career highlight.

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