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Active Duty to Cage Warrior: The Inspiring Journey of UFC’s Connor Matthews

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In the fast-paced world of mixed martial arts, fighters often have unique stories that shape their careers. In a recent episode of the Couch Warrior Podcast, host Mike spoke with Connor Matthews, a Dana White Contender Series 2023 Week 10 contract winner and emerging UFC fighter. Matthews shared insights into his early martial arts journey, his time in the military, and his triumphant return to the Octagon.

Connor Matthews Talks Early MMA Exposure and Rise to UFC

At a tender age, Matthews started his martial arts journey, delving into American Kempo, Taekwondo, and Jiu-Jitsu. His initial exposure came through his older brother’s interest in martial arts, which inspired young Matthews to follow suit. From age five, he consistently sought opportunities to train, developing a passion for the discipline that would shape his future.

At 18, Matthews had his first MMA fight, an experience he described as nerve-wracking and adrenaline-filled. Reflecting on this period, he highlighted his intense rush during his debut, likening it to the exhilaration of his first parachute jump during his military service.

 “I would say there’s like two times in my life where I had almost a blackout from being on such an adrenaline rush. It would be my first MMA fight and my first time jumping out of a plane”. 

Despite the nervousness, Matthews was hooked, expressing that the high from winning his initial MMA bout left an indelible mark.

Military Service and Career Shift:

After pursuing MMA for a couple of years, Matthews made a significant life decision: enlisting in the military. Motivated by his parents’ encouragement and the desire for a new direction after a setback in his hockey career, he joined the Air Force in 2013. Opting for a special operations role as a combat controller, Matthews became responsible for coordinating airstrikes and air-to-ground operations, a role demanding mental toughness and discipline.

Mental Health and Martial Arts:

Matthews candidly shared how his military service took a toll on his mental well-being, leading him to turn back to martial arts as a coping mechanism. Martial arts had always been a refuge for him during challenging times, providing an outlet for anger and stress. This time, however, it had an even more profound impact, significantly contributing to his personal growth and improved skills.

“You know, all the skills that I developed through my special operations career, like the mental toughness, the discipline, and the attitude, I kind of applied that into martial arts and I got way better than I ever had before that”.

Matthews also provided some advice for others who have returned from military service and are finding it difficult to readapt to regular day to day life.

“Find your passion, take care of yourself, and get lost in it, because that will generally help out”.

Establishing Mom’s Basement MMA:

Returning from the military, Matthews faced challenges finding a suitable gym space. The unexpected closure of a rented gym space led to the creation of “Mom’s Basement MMA” – a gym in his parents’ home. Despite its unconventional name, the gym has become a hub for training, with Matthews emphasizing the importance of creating a positive environment for his students. Matthews trains fighters of various ages and skill levels, and prides himself in his ability to teach them what he has learned throughout his career.

Military Mentorship and Balancing Roles:

In addition to his fighting career, Matthews continues to work for the Air Force, mentoring individuals aspiring to join special operations. Balancing his roles as a fighter, coach, and military professional, he acknowledged the challenges of time management.

“You just got to try to manage the time and do it right. But you know, everything I do, I have a passion for, so I don’t mind it”

Despite the demanding schedule, Matthews expressed his passion for both fighting and military service, finding fulfillment in staying connected to his roots.

Training with the New England Cartel:

When asked about his training camps, Matthews elaborated on his transition to training with the New England Cartel, highlighting its transformative impact on his game. Under the guidance of coaches like Tyson Chartier and training partners of high caliber, such as Calvin Kattar and Rob Font, Matthews refined his skills, particularly in wrestling and striking. The emphasis on discipline and competitiveness within the team contributed to his growth as a fighter.

Contender Series Redemption:

Discussing his experiences on the Dana White Contender Series, Matthews revealed how the setback fueled his determination for a comeback. The loss in his initial appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series 2022 Week 2 against Francis Marshall prompted a reset in his approach, aligning himself with the New England Cartel and focusing on wrestling. Despite losing in his first appearance on the show, Matthews was not discouraged.

“I always believed in myself. I know I could fight at that level”.

His second appearance against undefeated Jair Farias showcased a well-rounded performance, earning him a UFC contract and marking a significant turning point in his career.

Looking Ahead to the UFC:

As Matthews prepares for his UFC debut, he remains focused on securing three consecutive wins to solidify his place in the organization. While he refrains from calling out specific opponents at this stage, he emphasizes the importance of establishing himself in the UFC before considering future challenges. Shortly after the interview, Matthews’ first fight was announced, as he will be taking on Dennis Buzukja on March 30th in Atlantic City.

Connor Matthews’ journey from a childhood passion for martial arts to becoming a UFC fighter reflects resilience, determination, and a commitment to personal growth. His story underscores the transformative power of martial arts as both a physical discipline and a mental sanctuary. As Matthews steps into the UFC arena on March 30th, fans can anticipate a fighter whose journey has shaped him into a formidable force in the highly competitive world of mixed martial arts.

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Michael Kachan is a life long MMA fan and has been analyzing and breaking down fights for over four years. He is the host of the Couch Warrior Podcast where he provides weekly MMA breakdowns as well as fighter interviews and more.

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