Jake Matthews made his UFC debut in the summer of 2014 at a Fight Night event in Auckland, New Zealand.
“It means I’ve obviously done something right,” Matthews said with a smile regarding his longevity with the promotion. “It’s a big testament to my team, the people I have around me. It reinforces that we’re on the right track considering the average fight career in the UFC is like three fights and 18 months, if not less.”
Matthews, who faces off with unbeaten prospect Michael Morales in the co-main event of Saturday’s fight card at the UFC APEX, has been around for one-third of the UFC’s existence, despite not having reached 30 years of age himself, a fact that made us both shake our heads when we spoke about it on Wednesday.
Because he’s been around for as long as he has, it’s hard to remember that the former Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia contestant is still in the early stages of his athletic prime, having largely completed the “experience gathering” portion of his career competing on the biggest stage in the sport.
While that has come with some setbacks and a divisional change as he’s grown from a teenager into a father of three with a beard and a bunch of tattoos, it’s also provided the still developing welterweight with invaluable experience as he looks to propel himself to the next level within the division.
“The biggest thing is the maturity that comes as the years go on, and with that maturity comes the discipline, learning to stay motivated, and how to push through adversity, and it all stems from that maturity piece,” he said when asked about the core lessons learned thus far in his career. “It’s all about staying calm, collected, learning from the losses and implementing that into the next fight, and I definitely attribute that to being in the UFC for so long.
“All the losses I’ve suffered, I’m still here, and if I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything in my career because if I change something, I might not be in the UFC today. We’ve always said we’re gonna treat this like a marathon, not a sprint, and that’s what we’ve done.
“The benefit to that is that I’m so comfortable in the Octagon, within the UFC,” continued Matthews, who has gone 8-3 since transitioning to the 170-pound weight class. “A lot of these other guys (developed) in another organization and they’ve hit their peak as they get into the UFC. Alexander Volkanovski for example — I’ve been in the UFC a lot longer, but he was established, at that level physically, mentally, and in terms of his maturity to get into the UFC and make a quick run, whereas I had to learn.
“When I was 19, I didn’t know how to fight; it was pure ego and athleticism,” he added with a laugh. “I had to learn how to fight while fighting the best guys in the world.”
He’s also had to learn some hard lessons about focus and decision-making, as well.
In the summer of 2022, Matthews was paired off with Andre Fialho, a white-hot rising star in the welterweight division who debuted with a solid effort in defeat against Michel Pereira before registering a pair of first-round stoppage wins over Miguel Baeza and Cameron VanCamp.
Fans and media forecasted the Portuguese striker as a potential contender, enamored with how frequently he fought and the knockout finishes he’d produced. Matthews rolled into their fight at UFC 275 in Singapore and put him away inside of two rounds, taking heavy shots and landing his own in return before shrugging as he walked away from his felled opponent, as if to say, “I don’t see what all the hype was about.”
It was a breakthrough effort — rightfully declared the biggest win of his career by Jon Anik on the pay-per-view broadcast — but rather than parlay that into another marquee assignment, the Australian got a little antsy waiting around for the type of matchup he wanted to materialize and jumped into an end-of-the-year pairing with heavy hitter Matthew Semelsberger instead.
“We fought Andre Fialho, who was supposed to be the next welterweight champ, and we put an end to that,” began Matthews, recounting how he landed opposite “Semi the Jedi” in Las Vegas last December. “I felt like we should have been able to get a ranked guy or a big name. Not to take anything away from Matt Semelsberger, but we wanted a big name and the excitement wasn’t there for that fight.”
Matthews landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict, hitting the canvas multiple times in the entertaining dust-up that instantly halted any momentum he’d mustered in the summer.
“It’s a huge lesson and one we’re grateful for,” he said. “It’s setting up for these future fights where I have these big wins against these big name guys, but regardless of that win, it’s in the past now; there is another fight coming up and it’s just as big a challenge, so we have to train just as hard.
“We can’t take our foot off the gas pedal just because we had a big win,” he added. “It’s one of those losses where I wouldn’t change it. I’ll take that lesson because I know it’s going to help me in future fights.”
Jake Matthews Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig
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Jake Matthews Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig
There are lessons from his past that Matthews believes will help him this weekend against Morales, as well, especially given that he was once in the undefeated Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) graduate’s shoes.
The 24-year-old from Ecuador enters Saturday’s contest with a 3-0 mark in the UFC and a 15-0 record overall, having parlayed a dominant run on the regional scene into a victory on Season 5 of the annual talent search series before collecting stoppage wins over Trevin Giles and Adam Fugitt during his 2022 rookie campaign in the Octagon.
Earlier this year, he took a step up in competition and registered a unanimous decision win over veteran Max Griffin, positioning him for this pairing with Matthews, which the Australian believes will be akin to his early showdown with James Vick.
“In that fight — I can remember it clear as day,” Matthews said of his first career loss. “I was aggressive — just a young, aggressive fighter, and James was so relaxed no matter what I did. I was hitting him at the start, I was picking him up and slamming him, taking him down, and no matter what I did, he stayed laser-focused and calm because he knew that opening was coming.
“He’d been in positions like that before, where I hadn’t. I’d never been kneed in the face and rocked, and as soon as that happened, the fight was done, because I didn’t know how to fight through that, push through that.
“Now there have been multiple fights where I’ve been rocked, come back, won the fight, fought through three rounds, multiple Fight of the Night bonuses,” added Matthews, who holds wins over Fialho, Diego Sanchez, and Li Jingliang, amongst others. “I’ve kind of been through it all, and this is a mirror image of that fight.”
Once the neophyte being exposed to difficult challenges and dangerous, experienced foes for the first time, Matthews is now a seasoned veteran, closing in on 20 appearances under the UFC banner and serving as a key test for the ascending Morales.
And just as Vick put him in positions and situations he’d never experienced before, the Australian fully intends to do the same to the young man he’s sharing the Octagon with this weekend at the UFC APEX.
“You just said it — put pressure on him he hasn’t felt before, and put him in positions he hasn’t felt before,” Matthews said when asked how he intends to weaponize his veteran status on Saturday evening. “With our styles, I just have to put hands on him. We know that when I put hands on people, it turns them into a grappler, so I just need to land a few strikes early, work my counterpunching and that will make him uncomfortable.
“He’s gotten away with being the bigger, stronger guy, been able to bully people with his boxing, but I definitely back my boxing in this fight, and once he realizes that, with me being a second-degree black belt on the ground, it’s gonna make him nervous; there’s not anywhere else to go.”
And should the newly minted second-degree black belt collect a second straight win and bounce Morales from the ranks of the unbeaten, he plans on putting the lesson learned following his win at UFC 275 into practice.
“(A win here) reinforces that I do belong in the rankings,” offered Professor Matthews. “I’ve won a few of these fights before — Li Jingliang, Andre Fialho — and then I want a ranked guy, but the fight doesn’t present itself immediately and then I jump into some fight that I don’t want.
“If I get a good win, I’m just gonna sit back, wait for a ranked opponent to come up, and just poke and prod as much as I can. The Fialho fight was a perfect stage for me to go and fight a ranked guy, and I wanted to fight before the end of the year, I wanted to stay active, and I took that fight (against Semelsberger).
“Lesson learned,” he added, smiling. “So if I get the win, we’ll be sitting and waiting, and we’ll make sure the next one is against a big name.”
Don't miss a moment of UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prelims start at 2pm ET/11am PT, while the main card kicks off at 5pm ET/2pm PT.