UFC 129: Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jason Brilz In Depth Preview

Rounding out the main card of UFC 129 is a 205-pound dogfight between similarly savvy wrestlers Vladimir Matyushenko and Jason Brilz.

Matyushenko is old school and blue collar to the core. A stoic war veteran beaming a thousand battles in his eyes, "The Janitor" has forged his no-frills wrestling game into a highly functional Sherman tank with timeless weaponry.

Debuting in the true NHB era in 1997, Vladdy threw himself into the fire against top competition right out of the gate, and is still immersed in the flames 14 years later at age 40. His 25-5 record is speckled with reputable fighters of different shapes, sizes, and generations:  Travis Fulton, John Marsh, (who both offered legendary demonstrations of MMA vs. TMA), Yuki Kondo, Tito Ortiz, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Pedro Rizzo, Travis Wiuff, Andrei Arlovski, and Jon Jones.

By adding some basic boxing to his brute strength and powerful wrestling, he's become a Belarusian bull packed into a 205-pound frame with sledgehammer fists. Since a prime Andrei Arlovski uppercutted him out of the UFC in 2003, Vladdy has gone 12-2, losing only to elbow-bashing phenom Jon Jones and Brazilian boxing champion Little Nog.

Jason Brilz (18-3-1) put himself on the map with a ballsy performance last May against the same Nogueira at UFC 114, where well-timed takedowns, intelligent top control, and even a few bona fide submission attempts nearly scored him the upset over the heralded black belt. Despite suffering the decision loss and disappearing ever since, Brilz earned the profound respect of fans for his valiant effort against the legend.

Hailing from Omaha's Elite Performance team, accomplished NCAA D-2 wrestler Brilz has a style eerily akin to Matyushenko's with a wrestling foundation that's complemented by a vanilla but adequate striking acumen.

In addition to Nogueira, Matyushenko and Brilz share a host of common opponents in former "The Ultimate Fighter" season 8 cast member Eliot Marshall, who edged Brilz but fell to Matyushenko (both very competitive split-decisions), and each fighter holds wins over Alex Schoenauer and Tim Boetsch. Many felt that Brilz deserved the nod in both the Marshall and Nogueira fights, and the only time he was soundly defeated was an armbar early in his career.

The significant difference between the two is age and experience. Vladdy was brawling with the best of 'em back when cell phones were the size of toasters, so his superior mileage will be put to the test against the exuberance and quickness of the younger Brilz.

Find the full analysis after the break.

Striking phase

Really, the overwhelming strength and power of Matyushenko will be at odds with the quickness and intelligence of Brilz in every category.

Vladdy has one basic goal: stalk forward and thrash anything that moves in front of him that isn't wearing all black and shouting instructions. His densely muscled arms heave forward maliciously; either one after the other, bearing a vague resemblance to punching combinations, or coming together at once like the steel platforms of a trash compactor, which squeeze you into a breathless bear hug of death.

The idea here is that brute force takes precedence over elegance. It's a soothing piece of nostalgia that in the most rapidly evolving state of MMA where graceful and flashy techniques are emerging faster than ever, there's still no substitute for a giant, menacing Russian swinging two leather-clad wrecking balls at your head with the foulest of intentions.

Usually, he will methodically walk his opponent down and cut off escape routes before diving for a double leg, or in some cases, choosing simply to press them against the fence and trap the head with one hand while exacting some sort of violence with the other.

A straight-on shootout is not encouraged against Matyushenko, which is where Brilz should ignite his footwork to scamper around in angles and catch the hulk from the side with quick punches. Though dealt by deadly marksmen, most of Vladdy's losses came via TKO, and he does have a decent guard and chin, but Brilz should adorn the closest thing to a Chuck Liddell or Lyoto Machida costume that he can muster up.

Anticipating the takedown, when he's not circling and using movement, Brilz has good uppercuts and should cleave them hard up the middle where Matyushenko's head will drop for double-legs. Pivoting and catching Vladdy off-guard with both strikes and takedown attempts are the best way for Brilz to adjust for the size, strength, and wrestling abilities of the Russian, who has been a bit careless standing in the past.

Just because he'll have trouble dealing with "The Janitor" everywhere else, I'll give a small edge to Brilz here, even though Vladdy has more power. Brilz is a little lighter on the feet and should come equipped with a better gameplan, knowing this is one foe he can't tackle head-on.

Advantage: Brilz (slight)

Clinch Phase

Matyushenko was a handful for most heavyweights in the clinch, and this is one spot where his experience and massive frame make him too much of a load. Brilz has shown some striking and maneuvering ability in the clinch, but 100% of his efforts should be dedicated to avoiding the takedown, as whoever ends up playing guard in this fight is likely to lose.

As in the standup, straight shots up the middle and starting at the hip-area where a wrestler typically drops levels should be the only offense Brilz attempts in the clinch -- and that's only if he can stay afloat. Many fighters made the mistake of worming for the Thai plum to land knees in Matyushenko's clinch, but just ended up floundering underneath him on the mat.

Advantage: Matyushenko

Grappling Phase

Against Nogueira, Brilz impressed with a solid grasp of BJJ position work and submission attempts. He finally got a hang of Nog's deep half-guard sweep and locked a deep guillotine in the second, and also showed some strong scrambling ability while engaging the wily veteran.

Unfortunately, none of that seems plausible to pull off under one of MMA's heaviest bases. Vladdy has incessant and disfiguring ground-and-pound from the top: be it hammer fists, elbows, punches, or a fiendish medley of all the above. He's never been submitted and has squelched everyone he's been able to climb on top of.

The bread and butter for both Brilz and Matyushenko is their crippling top game, and the odds strongly favor Matyushenko assuming that position for the vast majority of the time.

Advantage: Matyushenko

Summary

There is a sliver of hope for Brilz if he can avoid demolition and exploit his athleticism. In a few of Matyushenko's past defeats, quicker and more agile wrestlers overcame his strength (Ortiz and Jones), while intelligent and technical grapplers stayed slippery and scrambled free to bomb strikes (Nogueira and Arlovski).

Brilz has shown shades of all of those traits and could piece them together and give Vladdy hell with the right strategy.

However, the names on Vladdy's rap sheet are star caliber, and Brilz really only has one surprisingly feisty performance against a top-shelf opponent, and in retrospect, one with a vulnerability to wrestling.

The bettors have this fight pretty even overall, and in spite of the more popular trend lately, I think Vladimir Matyushenko's superior strength and experience will keep him out of danger and carry him to a commanding decision.

My prediction:  Matyushenko by decision

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