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Matthews ‘wanted to bring the old Jake back’ at UFC 221

Jake Matthews started to play it safe after losing in MMA for the first time back in 2015, but that all changed at UFC 221 earlier this month.

At the young age of 23, Jake Matthews has already had nine fights in the UFC. He signed with the premier MMA promotion in 2014, and for a while, he was the youngest fighter on the roster.

For his first two UFC fights — 2014 submission wins over Dashon Johnson and Vagner Rocha — Matthews went out there, had fun, and gave it his all.

But while furthering his experience in the Octagon, “The Celtic Kid” started looking at fighting as a job. Matthews was focused on ensuring he could pay his bills — even though he still lives at home and doesn’t have a mortgage to pay. And that took the enjoyment out of competing for him.

“Apart from my first two fights in the UFC, all the other ones I’ve gone in there to try and not lose, rather than to go in there and have fun and enjoy it,” Matthews told BloodyElbow.com.

Matthews’ first loss in the UFC was an upset submission to James Vick, who is now a top 15 fighter in the lightweight division, in May 2015. He followed that setback up with two straight victories, but dropped his next two fights to Kevin Lee and Andrew Holbrook.

The welterweight started caring only about winning — not putting on good performances that will impress his audience as well.

“I lost [my third UFC fight], and I got paid half of what I was getting paid,“ Matthews said. “I realized this is my living at the end of the day, and when you don’t have as much money to get you through to the next fight, you realize you gotta try to support your family, you gotta put food on the table, you got things to pay for.”

“You don’t want to lose your job. You don’t want to get kicked out of the UFC and lose your means for a living.”

Matthews had that mindset until a decision win over Bojan Velickovic at UFC Fight Night 121 last November. The nod ended his two-fight skid — the first of his career — and certainly boosted his confidence.

Ahead of his last fight — a unanimous-decision win over Li Jingliang at UFC 221 earlier this month — Matthews sat down with his father and head coach, Mick, and talked about the “old days.” The days he wanted to win in exciting fashion ... not just win.

“When you’re fighting locally, and you’re fighting for two hundred dollars, one hundred dollars, you’re obviously not in it for the money,” Matthews said. “There’s got to be some other reason you’re in it. For me, it was just the love of the sport. I love training hard, I love being there, I love having good fights. That’s why I was doing it.”

In the Jingliang fight, Matthews proved that mentally, he had changed. Though he mixed in a few takedowns, he showed off an improved striking skill set — something we don’t see as much from the Australian. He hurt his opponent multiple times, but unluckily for Matthews, Jingliang is one of the toughest fighters to put away.

Matthews and Jingliang both earned an extra $50,000 for “Fight of the Night” honors — deservedly so.

“This was the first fight I enjoyed in a long time,” Matthews said. “It’s probably reminiscent of my earlier days fighting when I was younger and I had less cares and I’d just go out and just fight. I just wanted to bring the old Jake back, the old Jake who used to have fun, who used to go out there and use his entire skill set.”

Matthews said UFC lightweight contender Justin Gaethje’s “kill or be killed” fighting style inspired him heading into the Jingliang pairing.

“The way I fight best is when I don’t play safe; I just go in there, I use my entire skill set, and I hunt for the finish the entire fight,” Matthews said. “This fight, every training session throughout fight week, I just kept it lighthearted, I was laughing more, I had fun. I carried it into the fight, and look where it got me. I think it’s definitely the way to go about it.”

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