EXCLUSIVE | AJ Matthews Talks ‘Fight Master’: Coaches, Fights and How the Show Worked | Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio
AJ Matthews, welterweight fighter on Bellator’s reality TV series on Spike TV, “Fight Master,” joined BJPenn.com’s Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio Sunday night to break down last week’s episode and give us more details about what it was like inside the house.
By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
This past episode of Bellator’s reality TV series, “Fight Master,” revealed a lot in terms of how the show will operate, and particularly how it will operate differently than the UFC’s reality TV series, “The Ultimate Fighter.”
The show began with obvious differences. There are four coaches meaning that each fighter will train with three other fighters, rather than a team of 8. The fighters pick their coaches, a different twist on TUF’s almost schoolyard-like line-up where the coaches pick their squads.
And this week, we saw some more departures from the status quo of MMA reality TV. The fighters will live in the same place where they will fight. The coaches met with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney to rank the fighters, but the rankings are virtually unknown to the fighters themselves. And in one of the most drastic departures from the TUF model, the fighters are randomly selected to choose their opponent.
All of this, AJ Matthews said, made him love the show.
“It’s just Spartan,” he said about his reaction to living right next to the cage. “That was the mentality: well, I sleep here, I train there and I fight there. That was cool to me, man. I think it got everybody more in the zone than the other show, you know what I’m saying?
“It was a constant reminder. Anytime you fucking wondered why you were there, ‘Oh, I miss my girlfriend,’ you know? All you had to do is take a step out of your door, you see a cage there, and you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, that’s why I’m here, man.’ You know what I’m saying? It was a constant reminder, there was no way to get your mind off track, because you were reminded constantly [that] we’re here to fight, and that’s what everyone’s here for. It was pretty awesome.”
Matthews, who is on Randy Couture’s team, said that his team and his training were exactly what he had anticipated and hoped for.
“It was just going to be work ethic- work ethic and mentality. Obviously you could see immediately that our team was strong, you know. So I think they’re pumped up, and he was committed, you know. He brought in good coaches, and he told us that he was going to be there. But man, it was good energy in the gym. And then it’s Randy Couture, so we’re all excited and stuff, like maybe we get to punch Randy in the face and stuff… It wasn’t a surprise, and that’s the reason I made the pick. It’s like, ‘I’m a blue-collar dude, he’s a blue-collar dude. Let’s get to work,’ you know?”
Of course, not all the coaches approached training in the same way. Frank Shamrock told his fighters to focus on the mental part of things, giving each man a notebook to keep track of how training was going. A tactic that some could find humorous, Matthews said most of the other fighters found that to be a great idea.
“You know what’s funny? People got jealous of the notebooks. For real! We started putting in requests, like, ‘I want to take notes too.’ It was pretty dynamic in the warehouse, but I think that, you know, everybody can get better off any kind of different coaching style. If that’s what he [Shamrock] brings to the table, then you can learn from it. If I picked his team, I would have learned from that, you know what I mean?”
Matthews said a lot of this was interesting to see, partly because some of what we see on television wasn’t known to the fighters. For example, the rankings that were so clear for the TV viewers were not as explicit for the fighters.
“Some of the guys never found out because maybe they got picked, you know what I’m saying? So yeah, you never knew. Let’s say you were number 1. You don’t know if you picked the number 2 guy or the number 16 guy. All you know is that you picked someone who was picked lower than you.”
For his own part, Matthews was ranked fourth overall, something he said he felt “like it was justified for sure.
“You can hold your chin a little higher, you know what I mean? ‘Oh, now people believe in me. These other people see it too, you know what I mean, maybe it’s not just me.’ It gave me confidence. And then the other guys that are living in the warehouse are looking at you like, ‘Damn, I was number 10…’ And then you get in people’s heads or whatever. It was good, it was cool. I was definitely happy about the pick, or the rankings.”
Also in last week’s episode, the elimination fights began. Cole Williams defeated Mike “The Zombie” Dubois with a first-round rear-naked choke, and Chris Lozano defeated Brian Tavers in a three-round split decision.
Matthews said that the Williams fight went pretty close to what everyone expected.
“Cole is slick- his wrestling is slick… That’s pretty much the fight, man, and that’s pretty much how we thought it would go. That’s how he thought it would go. He even said it. He said, ‘Yeah I’m going to show the people that I can wrestle.’ And that fucking, that knee-tap was sick, from the clinch! I mean, he definitely put on an impressive performance, and you know, the ‘Zombie’ beat a tough guy to get into the house, but he didn’t show a lot of what he had, so it’s like, you don’t have anything to go off of… [Williams] made that choice, believed in himself and pulled it off.”
With Chris Lozano, Matthews seemed more impressed by who Lozano chose to fight.
“I thought Lozano’s pick was gangster… You know what I’m saying? If you guys watched Bryan Travers’ fight, that dude’s tough too. You know what I mean? Like he can’t get hurt on the feet. He’s going to grind you, you know what I’m saying? And then Lozano just comes out and picks him like that? I was like, ‘Alright, I respect that.’ I know Lozano, I’ve seen him fight before, and you know he’s a dog too; and for him it’s about being competitive. So I loved it, man, I loved that pick.”
Matthews has yet to fight in an elimination fight, but he talked about the idea of picking his opponent.
“There are so many different ways that it could play out, you know what I mean? There are dark horses, there’s fluke punches, you know what I’m saying? So you can’t even really- you just have to pick for yourself. What do I want to do? If you’re being there, you obviously think you can win. I thought- I think I can beat everybody, you know what I’m saying? So it’s like, I’m just going to pick whoever I want to fight, and everything is just going to fall where it falls. Because if you spent so much time thinking about, ‘Oh, well if he beats him, and then he beats him, and then I can pick him,’ it’s like, dude, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. Because that’s all you can think about.”
Be sure to catch AJ Matthews on Bellator’s “Fight Master” on Spike TV Wednesday nights at 10/9c.