By Josh Gross
July 16, 2010

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Vladimir Matyushenko is officially in the midst of his 29th "hell week," which for a fighter really means 14 days of suffering. Preparing to meet highly touted light heavyweight prospect Jon Jones on Aug. 1 in his first UFC-promoted main event since the fall of 2001, Matyushenko, who has 17 years and 17 fights on his opponent, is counting down the days toward one of the most significant bouts of his understated career.

"I think the good fighters, they train to the point where they just want to fight and get it over with," said Matyushenko, whose 24-4 record over 13 years against mostly quality opposition warrants the distinction.

Unofficially, Matyushenko is approaching somewhere close to 40 hell weeks, what with the it-is-what-it-is experiences of promotions collapsing and opponents pulling out of fights at the last minute because of injury. Late cancellations are a fact of life for mixed martial artists, though few have known the unpleasantness like the 39-year-old wrestler, who first stepped in a cage on a whim in 1997.

Take, for example, Matyushenko's past 36 months. After winning and defending the light heavyweight championship in the International Fight League, a team-based promotion that lasted a mere two-and-a-half years, he was stuck in limbo when the company folded in the summer of 2008 -- this despite working his way through a full training camp for a fight that never came. Matyushenko eventually moved on and signed with Affliction, which scheduled him for an October card in Las Vegas that was postponed. The drought continued into November when an EliteXC event was canceled as a result of the promotion imploding in the wake of a disastrous card on CBS that featured Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson being exposed by Seth Petruzelli.

Eight months of intensive, fight-specific training. Zero fights. Zero paydays. A whole lot of frustration.

Finally, he made it all the way to a fight in January 2009 against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, a rematch of a bout Matyushenko won in Japan six-and-a-half years earlier. However, he was far from healthy and walked -- barely -- into the ring with his groin muscle torn clean off the pubic bone. Matyushenko would not have fought that night, he said, but bills needed paying.

"I didn't know if Affliction would have their next fight," he said. "Maybe they'd postpone or disappear. I didn't know at the time. It forces you to do stupid things like that, but kind of necessary in order to survive."

Save an 18-month stretch from 2003 to '05, when Matyushenko thought working on trains at the Port of Los Angeles was a better alternative to MMA -- "It's like going fishing in Alaska. It sounds fun. It sounds cool. But if you do it every day for two years, it's not so much" -- he has plied his trade for 11 promoters, in four countries, in two weight divisions.

Matyushenko has seen it all. Done it all. And, he said, after returning to the UFC in 2009, he's never enjoyed a more stable situation -- both in and out of the cage.

For the past three years, Matyushenko has operated out of his own facility, VMAT, in this breezy ocean-side suburb of Los Angeles. It's a small space that requires entry through an alley and looks more like a two-car garage than a proper place for fighters like Jared Hamman, Antoni Hardonk and Stefan Struve to ready themselves for war. Living in a four-bedroom home 10 minutes from the gym, Matyushenko has everything he could want -- except maybe some company after his son, Roman, now 19, joined the Air Force.

"I'm just by myself there walking around sleeping in one room, the next night another room," he joked, remembering a time not so long ago when the pair was stuffed into a tiny apartment.

"Right now," he said, "it's a fun time to fight compared to before."

Cancellations still happen. They always will. Three days before he was set to fight Steve Cantwell at UFC 108 in January, Matyushenko was told the Las Vegas-based fighter had been forced off the card. The UFC, with its considerable depth in the light heavyweight division, put Matyushenko in the cage two months later against Eliot Marshall and he took a split decision. And now he gets Jones, one of the hottest prospects in the sport.

"He hasn't fought anyone hardcore," Matyushenko said. "That's one of his down points: experience. It's not just your technique experience. It's the ability to take a punch, lose, break your hand, that stuff. I don't think he's been in trouble yet so I don't know how he'll behave if he gets in trouble."

For his part, Matyushenko knows how to deal with adversity. In competition. In life. He knows what it's like to struggle, survive and win. Against Jones, the older, stiffer, slower Matyushenko will look like he's slogging through cement. But then again, it's never been pretty with him. Results, he's shown over the years, they're all that matters. Thus his nickname: "The Janitor." Getting the job done.

"You can see a lot of guys like Jon in the gym who can just do crazy stuff," Matyushenko said. "But they can't perform in front of people. It's a special talent you have to have in order to be a good fighter."

Matyushenko's young foe -- Jones (10-1) turns 23 on Monday -- has shown that ability and then some, leaving the grizzled vet to wonder, "If Jones is the biggest contender to a championship title, where does a win put me?"

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