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Brilz and Matyushenko Aim for an Explosive Battle at UFC 129

If you believe what Vladimir Matyushenko (25-5) and Jason Brilz (18-3-1) are saying ahead of their fight at UFC 129 this Saturday night, this is one wrestler-versus-wrestler match-up that will look like anything but.

Matyushenko – a former Belarusian national team member – claims that he plans to use his wrestling skills mostly to stay off the mat, and his reasoning is fairly simple.

"I've been working on my stand-up skills for a little while now and honestly I'd like to show off a little bit in front of the fans," Matyushenko told MMA Fighting. "And I know my friends and my fans are expecting it."

Brilz, who's been out of action since losing a very close split decision to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last May, seems to be keeping his approach even simpler.

"I'm just going to go full-tilt right at him and see what happens," he said.

If you think that sounds like a bad idea against someone with Matyushenko's experience, just remember that it's more or less the same plan Brilz had for Nogueira. After taking that fight on short notice he pinned his hopes on his ability to "get in [Nogueira's] face," and the result was an action-packed battle that many people -- UFC president Dana White included -- thought Brilz deserved to win.

That surprising performance wasn't lost on Matyushenko, who also has a loss on his record courtesy of Nogueira.

"Jason showed he's a good underdog and he can put up a fight," Matyushenko said. "His skills speak for themselves, on the ground and in the stand-up. Nogueira couldn't really do anything to him, so he's a fairly dangerous opponent."

Brilz and Matyushenko have been traveling in a similar orbit within the UFC's light heavyweight class for a couple of years, so a meeting between the two seemed inevitable. They share a few common opponents, and were originally slated to meet last November, until a back injury sidelined Brilz.

It happened as he was taking part in a CrossFit charity competition to benefit the troops, he said, and as soon as it was over he realized he might have overexerted himself.

"When I was done I kind of rolled off the rowing machine because I could barely move. I knew that wasn't good. Then I went home and tried to take a shower, but it was more or less a bath in the shower," Brilz said. "I went to the doctor and he told me, 'You'll be alright in about five weeks, as long as you don't twist, turn, or move too much.' I thought, apparently this guy doesn't know me too well. That's when I knew I had to cancel it. There was no way I could give Matyushenko a decent fight."

Brilz – who works full-time as a firefighter and paramedic in Omaha, Nebraska – said he had a tough few weeks of work after the back injury, but is finally back to normal and more than eager to get back in the cage against an opponent who, according to Brilz, is surprisingly unheralded.

"Matyushenko, you know, he doesn't get enough respect. The guy's lost one time [in the UFC], and that was to Jon Jones. People are writing him off like it's a gimme fight or something, and I'm like, man, this guy's a legit contender. He could be a problem for anybody."

After shocking the MMA world with his performance against Nogueira, Brilz described this fight as "another chance to see how my skills match up against another legend of the sport."

Considering their ages – Brilz will be 36 in July, and Matyushenko turned 40 this past January – it's also a bit of an old-timer's clash in this young man's sport.

Brilz has been in the sport for more than ten years, but still considers it something of a side job. Matyushenko's been at it since he won three fights in one night at the "Battle in the Bayou" event in Baton Rouge, Louisiana back in 1997.

It's understandable that people are always asking him when he's going to hang up the gloves, Matyushenko said, but he didn't endure MMA's humble early years just to quit when things are finally getting good.

"I'm getting older, but I'm still in really good shape. The thing is, it's really exciting now that MMA got to a point where it's a mainstream sport. That's really fun. The promoters are at a different level now, and interaction with the fans is so great. It's just so much more fun right now, so I don't think about quitting any time soon."

That's good news, since it would be a real shame if these two evenly matched light heavyweights didn't get a chance to go at it eventually. It might have taken a while to make it happen, but if they get their way it should be well worth the wait.

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