Jake Matthews considers himself an “old man in MMA years.”
Although just 28 years old, he has a point. Matthews entered the UFC nine years ago, and he heads into his 18th fight in the promotion when he takes on Darrius Flowers at UFC 291: Poirier vs Gaethje 2. The Australian describes himself as such when the topic of his missing out on the year’s earlier visit to Perth and upcoming stop in Sydney.
“It doesn't matter to me, to be honest,” Matthews told UFC.com. “I like fighting overseas. Earlier in my career it was 90 percent the Australian cards, and I actually knew the Australian cards were coming up, but I actually asked to fight earlier. We’ve got plenty of Aussies to fill the cards now.”
Considering 16 of his 24 professional fights have come in his home country, it’s fair to say he’s had his fill, although he does express a desire to go to UFC 293 as a fan, something he hasn’t ever done.
First, however, he intends to bounce back from a disappointing outing in his last fight against Matthew Semelsberger to end 2022. At the time, Matthews had just turned in a career-best performance against Andrè Fialho, knocking him out midway through the second round.
It was Matthews’ fourth win in five fights and his first finish since June 2018, and it seemed like a turning point for him. However, he fell flat against Semelsberger and finds himself having lost two of his last three instead of building momentum toward the welterweight rankings.
When he and his team took stock after the decision loss to Semelsberger, they all knew what they needed to do in preparation for his next fight on July 29.
“For some reason, the last fight camp, we sort of didn't focus on things as much,” Matthews said. “Maybe we got too comfortable because you had a big win, so this fight camp was 100 percent focus.”
Matthews added that “fitness” was a huge emphasis during camp due to the fight taking place at a high elevation. It’s been a pretty unanimous topic for the fighters at UFC 291, and Matthews was one of the handful that arrived in Utah early to acclimate himself.
Despite all the preparation, the fight game remains an unpredictable beast, which is to say Matthews’ prep for his initial opponent Miguel Baeza went out the door when Baeza was forced to pull out of the matchup. Instead, Matthews now faces Darrius Flowers, a Contender Series alumnus who is set to finally make his UFC debut after earning his contract in August 2022. Also 28 years of age, Flowers comes into the matchup having spent a lot of his time on the regional scene competing as a middleweight, so Matthews knows he has to remain focused despite the wealth of experience he holds over his opponent.
“We study our opponents pretty extensively,” he said. “We've watched all these fights. I know he's a powerful guy. He fights up a weight class, as well. He’s a bit of an all-rounder, so we're ready for wherever the fight goes, whether standing or in the wrestling or on the ground in the grappling, as well. We do think that we have the upper hand in all aspects, but it all comes down to doing it on the night.”
While Matthews has had spurts of consistency, maintaining a high-level of performance is the focus as he closes in on his prime fighting years. Not everyone has the wealth of high-level experience he collected over the last decade or so, and July 29 seems like a prime moment to reengage with the version of himself that turned heads in Singapore last year.
Staying in the promotion for the period Matthews has is already something on which he can hang his hat, but he holds loftier goals for himself. The first task, of course, is cashing in on all the focused work he put in over the last couple of months. The rest will take care of itself.
“What I want to showcase is showing myself that I can implement the lessons we learned from the last fight,” Matthews said. “Just being able to implement what we want to implement and what we've changed in the fight camp. Obviously, everyone can put it together while in the gym. (I want) to keep putting it together in the fights.”