EXCLUSIVE | AJ Matthews Talks Upcoming Bellator Show, “Fight Master” | Fist-ta-Cuff Radio
Bellator fighter, AJ Matthews, spoke with BJPenn.com’s Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio Sunday night to talk about his participation in Bellator’s upcoming reality television show, “Fight Master.” Matthews (6-2) took break from his recent run in Bellator’s welterweight division to participate in the television show, a six-week ordeal that was shot in Louisiana.
AJ said of the decision to try out for the show, “It really wasn’t as much my choice as it was my manager’s. It was in our contract to have the possibility of being in the tournament or have the possibility of being in this reality show they might do; and just to get people to get to know me a little better, we chose the show because best case, I’d be on TV and stuff if things worked out that way. It was pretty much a no-brainer, in that sense.”
When he went for the try-out, he was happy to see that the television executives were not looking for personality or fighters who would draw big ratings. He explained, “the main focus from the interview process and things like that- these guys, they weren’t looking for personalities, they weren’t looking for idiots, you know what I mean? I got on the show, I passed a psych test, and the psych-doctor said I was a normal dude, so I got to go and fight. That doesn’t necessarily make good television, but that’s not what it’s about for them. They want to have a show where it’s about the mentality of a fighter, the preparation of a fighter. It’s supposed to be serious.”
“That’s also a reason why we took the opportunity,” said when comparisons were made with the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter, which has become more known for its fighters’ antics outside the cage, “because I think I would get kicked out if I was in a house with a bunch of goofballs. I would kick someone in the leg, you know what I mean? Someone tries to wall out, I’d kick him in the leg, get kicked out… I told my students, if anyone freaks out, given I get into the house, I’m going to just challenge him to leg kicks. You can act like a fool if you beat me at leg kicks right now.”
Matthews said he was excited to try out for the show, not only for the publicity, but for the professional opportunities it opened for him.
“In this sport, you go into every fight… think[ing] in your mind, ‘I’m gonna win.’ So to win the tournament, you get $100,000 and a title shot; to win the show, you get $100,000 and you get in a tournament. So in everyone’s mind, that signs up to do the show, it’s like, ‘I’m going to get the title shot because I’m going to win the TV show, and I’m going to win the tournament, and then I’m going to fight for the title and win that too.’ So it was just the fact that people would be able to get know me, I would get to show a little bit more than my fighting skills- maybe my personality, you know what I mean, that I can coach, that I can help out, that I’m a team member as much as I am a solo fighter. I think that that’s important. People need to see that about fighting. They don’t need to see a bunch of dudes drunk, breaking stuff. They need to see guys that are really there for a purpose.”
“Fight Master” is going to feature a number of big names coaching the fighters including UFC Hall-of-Fame fighter Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Greg Jackson and Joe Warren. For Matthews, this was a great opportunity to expand his training and approach to the sport.
“Man, I was really excited, because I’m so used to my coaches. We have a certain way of doing things, and it’s like, if I get the chance to pick these guys’ brains. It’s like, what if I get the chance to fight against one of these coaches, and just to hear the things they say to their fighter against me. Because all that stuff, it was exciting, because all of them brought something big to the table, whether it’s experience or wrestling or coaching or mentality. All of them bring something huge to the table, and a chance to work with legends is- we’re lucky. All of us, we’re lucky.”
Matthews said the coaches all showed their ability to coach. The show’s focus being more on the fighters and less on a feud between coaches, the performances were different than The Ultimate Fighter.
“Not to talk crap,” Matthews said, “but when Brock Lesnar was coaching [on The Ultimate Fighter], just turning chicken sh*t into chicken salad all the time; it’s like, man, you should just stick to fighting or professional wrestling. But you get to find out if that’s how these guys are, if they can coach, if they can turn what they did in the cage or what they do in the cage, and apply it to someone else’s body or skill-set, and all that stuff is- that’s the game, that’s MMA, and it’s beautiful.”
“Fight Masters” will be showcasing 32 fighters, a number of whom are rising stars, and even some like Joe Riggs who are true veterans of the sport. Matthews took this cadre of welterweight fighters as a way to measure himself and his skills.
“The group that they brought- they already announced everybody- but the group that they brought to the show was gangster. One of these dudes, he’s from American Top Team, the guy that one The Ultimate Fighter, welterweights, this guy that came to the Bellator show knocked him out early in his career. It’s a deep group, you know… It was nice, because I don’t train with a lot of welterweights. We’re not deep in the welterweight division at Alliance. There’s a handful of us. So to go somewhere and to be kind of in the same bracket as these 32, 33 guys that show up; and you get to see first-hand, am I as good as I think I am? Am I as good as I am in the gym, if I went to another gym? Just being a competitor, like myself I’m just a competitor, that’s exciting to me. So yeah, that’s a big part of it, where do I stand?”
For the six weeks that the show was filmed, AJ lived in a house in Louisiana with the other fighters. Leaving the life with which he was familiar was difficult, as was the loneliness of competing on his own, but nothing was going to stop him from following his dream.
“I’m a really fortunate dude right now, I live with both of my brothers. We have a gym together. We have a good, solid core of guys. I teach kickboxing there, so they covered my kickboxing classes no problem. Work? I work at the BJ’s Brewhouse here in Carlsbad, and they’re so nice to me. They’ve let me go do 10-week training camps in Vegas before and then come back, and they’ll still rehire me. I was like, ‘Uh, I gotta go do something hopefully for this amount of time,’ and they were cool with it… But, to me, I had my girlfriend. It’s kind of tough, thinking you’re gonna leave all this stuff, you don’t even get to experience it for, hopefully, six weeks. So getting mentally prepared to do that, I don’t think I spent enough time thinking about it. Just landing over there, the one day, you fly over there and you land, it’s just lonely. They take your phone away right when you land. It’s just lonely… [However] all these guys that make the commitment are so willing to chase this dream, that it’s like, ‘Take it, take everything. I don’t need anything at all. Let me fight for my future.’ That’s pretty sick about the show.”
For Matthews, the show was just one more sacrifice to make along the road to becoming a top fighter in the sport.
“I didn’t think about anything, just winning. The sacrifices that I already put forward, I might as well sacrifice a little bit more to go for it. You know what I mean? That’s where our heads are at, there’s nothing more really besides the fight. I’m sure a lot of guys would agree with me on that one. Put me in that position again, I’ll go.”
“Fight Master” is set to premier June 19 on Spike TV.
You can listen to the entire interview here.