The Aussie MMA Fighter Juggling His Dream Of UFC Gold With A Career In The Army
In his own words, the last couple of months for Jake Matthews have been "pretty damn eventful" - and you can see why.
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to plague live sports events, most athletes from all corners of the globe have been left scratching their heads and wondering what to do next with their lives.
But not UFC veteran Matthews.
The man dubbed 'The Celtic Kid' hasn't exactly been sitting around and smashing beers like the rest of us during these uncertain times.
Instead, he's taken it upon himself to enlist in the Australian army.
And it turns out the 26-year-old was in the middle of his base training when he got the call from UFC president Dana White to offer him a fight against mixed martial arts legend Diego Sanchez.
But even though Matthews was deep into some hardcore weapons and first aid training (probably in some remote location in the Aussie bush), he had no hesitation in jumping straight back into the octagon and accepting the big-name fight.
"I've been away at army base training so I'm now officially enlisted in the army," Matthews told SPORTbible Australia.
"But it was probably about mid-training that I got the offer for this fight, so on top of all the army training I also had to prepare for a fight as well.
"We've only had about six to seven weeks to get ready which is not ideal and we've had to cram a lot into this camp, but in saying that I feel just as good as I ever have. My fitness is good, the weight is falling off really easily.
"As you can probably imagine, the army training is nothing flashy so I wasn't in the best shape. My personal trainer has helped me put a schedule together that has got my fitness and skill levels back up to scratch - I'm just as confident as ever for this fight."
Melbourne-born Matthews is no stranger to fight tragics.
Having burst onto the UFC scene back in 2014, Matthews has racked up a wealth of top-level experience in his 13 bouts with the sport's premier promotion.
Interestingly, though, the young Aussie father actually welcomed a change to his usually-strenuous schedule with open arms.
"I've been fighting since I was 16 years old, so joining the army is the only other thing I've done in my lifetime other than fight," Matthews said.
"It's something I've always wanted to do, if I didn't pursue a career in fighting I probably would have joined the army full-time. I've just been putting it off for ages, but this time I decided to jump in and get my foot in the door. Once my fighting career wraps up, whenever that is, I'll have something else to afterwards. Ideally, I would love to pursue a coaching career in the army teaching martial arts.
"I've always said - whether it's fighting or something else - that I'm going to do something crazy for a living so I'll probably end up going down the special forces route eventually. If I want to do something I'm going to put 100% into it and the army is no different."
While a career serving his country clearly awaits for Matthews, his focus in the meantime has remained fixated on jumping up the rankings in the welterweight division.
"We're training just as much as we normally would," Matthews said.
"Even with certain gyms being closed and a lack of training partners, my coach Dan Kelly has done a really good job in organising everything and putting me in a routine. We're working with what we've got.
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"I love a bit of adversity though. Training through the middle of a pandemic and then going on to fight a legend like Diego Sanchez and getting a win - I love it, I tend to thrive in these sort of situations."
And Matthews is right.
In a little over a month's time, a true legend of the sport will be standing opposite him when the cage doors slam shut.
There's not much Diego 'The Nightmare' Sanchez hasn't achieved during his 15-year career in the UFC.
While he's never experienced the feeling of having a championship belt wrapped round his waist, Sanchez's lengthy fight resume has seen him go toe-to-toe with some of the toughest men in the business.
Nick Diaz, B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian, Jake Ellenberger, Gilbert Melendez, Matt Brown, Al Iaquinta, Jon Fitch - the list goes on and on.
And, of course, we can't forget his legendary scrap with Clay Guida back in 2009 (honestly, if you haven't seen it jump on YouTube and do yourself a favour).
Two blokes standing toe-to-toe swinging for the fences for 15 solid minutes - what more can you ask for? As a fight fanatic, not much.
But on a deeper level, the iconic Hall of Fame bout proves that 'The Nightmare' has the capability of standing up and banging with his opponents - an aspect of his aggressive fight artillery that we haven't seen too often in recent years.
Regardless, though, Matthews is well aware of his upcoming opponent's abilities.
"I think he's still as dangerous as he's ever been," he said.
"I really hope the old Diego Sanchez - 'The Nightmare' - turns up to this fight.
"For me, it's just crazy to be fighting him. I remember watching Diego on season one of the Ultimate Fighter when I was in grade six - I would have been 10 or 11 years old when I saw him win the competition. I've been in awe of him throughout his whole career and now I'm fighting him - it's crazy. But that being said, I'm not letting it get to my head and I won't be overwhelmed by it.
"With any fight you can't ever be 100% certain of what your opponent is going to do because they can switch it up in an instant. That's even more the case with Sanchez whose style can change from round to round - not just fight to fight. He could come out and be an absolute animal and want to brawl or he could come out and just shoot for your legs every two seconds."
The UFC 253 card is stacked to say the least.
On top of that, it's scattered with an array of the brightest talent from Australian and New Zealand shores.
Kiwi megastar Israel Adesanya headlines the event as he looks to defend his middleweight title against fellow undefeated star Paulo Costa.
He's joined by his fellow countrymen Shane Young and Kai Kara-Frances as well as Aussie fighters Brad Riddell and Matthews.
"Heading over together with all of us makes it feel like we're going over as a team - even though we don't all train together at the same gym," Matthews said.
"Whenever there's other Aussies or Kiwis on the card with me it doesn't make a difference in how I perform.
"I just feel like we're going over there together to make waves for the ANZACs. It takes me back to my football days when you all walk out as a big team - it just gives me more motivation and pumps me up even more."
This will be 'The Celtic Kid's' 14th fight in the UFC - an incredible achievement for someone of his age.
But before Matthews can make a surge to the top of the division - or be satisfied enough to walk away from the sport to pursue a full-time army career - he must first put on a display against a UFC great in 38-year-old Sanchez.
When asked about how he thinks the fight will go on September 26, the Aussie had one simple answer: "I can truly, truly see myself finishing him off in the first round."
Featured Image Credit: Instagram
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