With all eyes on the massive UFC pay-per-view next Sunday afternoon (AEST), fans can be forgiven for overlooking two other massive fight cards on the same weekend.
Aussie fight fans will have a keen eye focused on Saturday’s (AEST) Ultimate Fighter finale, where Victorian Jake Matthews will be one of two young fighters to fly the Aussie flag in his bout against Kevin Lee.
Although Matthews won’t be competing on the main card of the event, Aussie fans will no doubt be well aware of the 21 year-old.
Perhaps New Zealand-born Robert Whittaker aside, the ‘Celtic Kid’ is the brightest prospect to emerge from Down Under.
Currently his mixed martial arts record stands at 10-1, his UFC record at 4-1.
Considering he is only just old enough to hopefully toast a victory on Saturday afternoon, the progress made by the Aussie flyweight is astounding.
Coming off two-straight wins in front of Australian fight fans, including a fight of the night win over Johnny Case, Matthews faces his biggest challenge in Lee.
23 year-old Lee has a similar record of 12-2 and is also riding a wave of confidence after a victory over Efrain Escudero.
The fight will also be the first time young Matthews will fight further away from home than Auckland. Seven of his fights have taken part in his home state of Victoria, meaning Matthews is use to home ground advantage.
The one major advantage Matthews seems to have is his ability to finish. He has four knock-outs and five submissions in his ten wins. Lee, while having five submission finishes on his resume, is yet to finish a fight due to strikes.
Interestingly though, his five submissions wins will be of note to the Matthews camp, whose fighter’s only career loss came via a guillotine choke.
Lee is also a late replacement due to the withdrawal of Jake’s original opponent Stevie Ray, although neither fighter will use this as an excuse if they were to lose.
For those who are tuning in to see Matthews fight for the first time, you can expect action. Matthews is the kind of fighter the UFC likes, one that looks for a finish.
The way he overcame a first round assault from Akbarh Arreola to eventually win his UFC 193 bout via doctor’s stoppage showed he has heart to go along with his undoubted talent.
One of the lightweight division’s larger athletes, Matthews has all the physical tools at his disposal. He has fast hands with genuine fight-stopping ability, yet can take the fight to the ground to put his BJJ brown belt to good use.
Quite frankly the amount of tools at his disposal at such a young age are staggering.
Of course turning talent and potential into results is no guarantee, but Matthews has set himself up, surrounding himself with a brilliant team.
Hopefully Matthews continued, long-term success, inspires other young Aussies to chase their dreams. Success would ensure his Epping-based gym is flooded with plenty of calls and could see a line of potential UFC fighters churned out.
At 21, Matthews has the world at his feet. From what I have seen thus far, this is a kid with his head firmly screwed onto his shoulders, which at such a young age can mean more than any flashy technique or ability.
Win, lose or draw, Matthews has a monster career ahead of him. As a big fan of the Victorian product, I’ll be just as excited for his fight as I will be for the UFC 200 pay-per-view just 24 hours later.
Zafir looking for first UFC win
Also representing Australia on the fight card is 28 year-old Anton Zafir. The Queensland slugger is making his second trip into the famed Octagon and is looking to record his first win.
A first-up round-one loss to James-Moontasri saw his UFC 193 debut end unsuccessfully, but Zafir, who teaches to help pay the bills, can make a big impression on the UFC’s biggest ever weekend.
The buzz around UFC 200 has literally millions of fight fans eagerly anticipating every fight, and a win over Li Jingliang will go a long way to setting Zafir on a bright path in the UFC.