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From backyard shed to the MGM Grand for Jake Matthews

Sporting News Sporting News 24/06/2016
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In two weeks, Aussie youngster Jake Matthews will be pacing around in a changing room in the depths of the MGM Grand, hitting the pads, getting a sweat up and waiting nervously for his cue to walk to the cage.

Despite boasting a 10-1 MMA record, Matthews' showdown with Kevin Lee on the undercard to The Ultimate Fighter Finale will be his first bout in the neon whirlwind fight capital of the world that is Las Vegas.

“I never expected to fight in Vegas this early in my career, but you always hope,” the 21-year-old told Sporting News Australia.

“It’s kind of surreal you know. I used to watch all my favourite fighters like GSP, Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell – those are the kind of guys that fought in Vegas.”

With celebrities and sports stars in town for the epic UFC 200 card a day after he fights, Matthews will spend the week – which is slated to be one of the biggest in the UFC’s history – rubbing shoulders with a who’s who of the MMA world.

He’s obviously looking forward to it, although he probably won’t have time to take it all in until afterwards. There’s work to be done first.

But if he does allow himself a moment of reflection somewhere along the way, either when his entrance music starts or when they close the cage door behind him, he might think briefly about far he’s come.

The high-rises and high-rollers of the Strip are a long way removed from the corrugated iron gym his dad built in the backyard of their home in Melbourne.

One of Australia’s brightest young stars, Matthews had an inauspicious beginning in mixed martial arts.

His story, which will go down as one of this country’s greatest sporting tales once he rises to the top, starts in the makeshift gym his dad built so a teenage Matthews could stay fit during the AFL off-season.

One thing led to another and he ended up making his amateur debut as a last minute replacement against a much older fighter who he ended up knocking out.

The win was such a rush that he decided then and there to ditch his AFL dreams to take up fighting.

“I’m actually sitting here in the old gym at the moment,” he said.

“It’s still all set up with the mats and everything. It seems like a very long time ago. We trained in this gym for my UFC debut in Auckland, so from my first fight I was training in this gym, which is pretty cool.

“But I’ve definitely come a long way, I’ve got my own gym now and all new coaches, so it’s definitely been a great journey.”

The journey continues on July 8 (Saturday, July 9 in Australia) against Kevin Lee, a 23-year-old from Detriot with a background in wrestling.

Lee has a 12-2 record and most recently earned a win over Efrain Escudero at UFC 197 in April.

“He’s a young guy, an up-and-comer,” said Matthews.

“If I can get a win over him, it will cement my place as the top up-and-comer in the lightweight division.

“From there, you can start fighting the veteran guys who’ve been in there for a while.

“That’s what I’m chasing.” 

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