UFC Vegas 66 Fighter to Watch: Jake Matthews

Following a dominant effort earlier this year, the young Australian veteran looks to make it two wins in 2022 when he takes on Matthew Semelsberger on Saturday

Name: Jake Matthews
Nickname: The Celtic Kid
Record: 18-5 overall, 11-5 UFC
Division: Welterweight
Team: Not Specified
Opponent: Matthew Semelsberger (14-4 overall, 4-2 UFC)

How We Got Here

Matthews first turned up on TUF: Nations, the Canada versus Australia adaptation of The Ultimate Fighter that propelled Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Chad Laprise, and the late Elias Theodorou (amongst others) into the UFC. The young Australian lost to Aubin-Mercier in the quarterfinals, didn’t get signed, but picked up a win as soon as he was able to compete again on the regional scene.

Two months later, Matthews made his UFC debut, collecting a third-round submission win over Dashon Johnson in Auckland, New Zealand; he was 19 years old and pushed his record to 8-0 with the victory. He spent the next six fights competing at lightweight, going 3-3 before opting to move up to the welterweight ranks.

Since changing divisions, the now 28-year-old Matthews has gone 7-2, with wins over Li Jingliang, Emil Meek, and Diego Sanchez, and losses to Anthony Rocco Martin and Sean Brady. Last time out, after a longer-than-expected stint on the sidelines, “The Celtic Kid” put it on Andre Fialho, halting the UFC rookie’s tidy two-fight run of success while earning a second-round stoppage.

What There Is To Like

As always, let’s go bullet points and then break a couple down in greater detail:

  • Still only 28 years old
  • 16 UFC appearances
  • Quality wins over Jingliang, Meek, Fialho
  • Plus athlete with good power, willingness to engage
  • Solid grappler, BJJ black belt
  • Growing into himself, both physically and as a fighter

It’s always been weird to me that Matthews’ win over Jingliang kind of went by the boards, especially as “The Leech” started stringing together wins and gaining popularity. Matthews accounting for Jingliang’s lone loss in an eight-fight run that carried him into the rankings, and he beat him handily, yet we all just kind of collectively ignored it.

Part of that is because Matthews suffered a split decision loss to Martin a couple fights later and hasn’t ever been the most active competitor, but it wasn’t a fluke and we all should have given it more weight. And losing to Martin wasn’t a bad loss either — he went 4-0 to start his return to welterweight before losing to Demian Maia, so it feels like one of those instances where our perceptions of these athletes was off.

Matthews is a classic example of a fighter that has garnered a tremendous amount of experience in the Octagon while still being young, with the bonus being that he hasn’t taken massive amounts of damage. Sure, he’s been in a few good scraps and been finished a couple times, but there haven’t been the kind of long-lasting, “that’ll change a man” battles we’ve seen from other youthful veterans that eventually begin to decline earlier and quicker than expected.

The fact that he made Brady work into the third round to get that win should have been a bigger deal, and honestly, I’m mad at myself for missing the ball on the Fialho result. We’ve seen Matthews rounding into the more full-formed version of himself for the last couple years, and I always considered him a plus athlete with a good all-around game, and just kind of lost sight of that prior to that contest.

Watching it back, you see the best parts of Matthews: he’s a good size for the division, good quickness, bounces around the cage, and mixes up his attacks. He countered well in the few spots where Fialho came forward and committed to strikes, beat up his lead leg when he didn’t.

The second round is just brilliant, honestly, because even though he stings Fialho early, there is no crazy rush from Matthews — he just continued to pick his spots, put big shots on him, and eventually got him against the fence and put him out.

It was real quality work and the kind of effort that makes you wonder if he’s on the cusp of taking a good step forward in the division.

Remaining Questions

Right now, the biggest one is just consistency: can he maintain this form (or improve upon it) and continue to fight with some regularity?

Matthews is one of many international fighters that — in my opinion — was hampered by largely being booked on shows in the Oceanic region, rather than being able to fight a pretty standard schedule. This is his 17th UFC appearance and only his third in the United States; he’s had two fights in Singapore, including his win over Fialho, one appearance in Abu Dhabi, and the rest were in Australia and New Zealand.

I know there is a lot that goes into this stuff and it’s not all on the UFC — some international fighters don’t want to compete in the US or too far from home — but I do think long stretches on the sidelines can be limiting, and allows competitors like Matthews to slip from our memories, when they should be climbing the charts.

If what we saw from Matthews last time out is largely what we’re going to see going forward, he could develop into an intriguing figure in the welterweight division, where there are some veteran fighters holding down positions in the lower third of the rankings, and a couple more further up the line that would be interesting dance partners for the 28-year-old from Melbourne.

Why This Fight Is Important

This weekend’s pairing with Semelsberger is actually a bit of a head-scratcher if I’m being honest, as Matthews is coming off the biggest win of his career and “Semi” is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Alex Morono.

Add in that Fialho went from getting stopped by Matthews to facing Muslim Salikhov, who was one fight removed from being ranked in the Top 15, and it just feels like a bit of an “Oh right — we need to get Jake Matthews a fight!” situation.

That said, I like the fight because it should show us whether the adjustments and improvements we saw against Fialho are real and lasting because Semelsberger only knows how to come forward and can hit like a ton of bricks.

From a skills and experience standpoint, this is all Matthews — he’s the more complete fighter, has been in there far more often and against much better competition — but Semelsberger can match him in terms of athleticism, has a ton of power, and could draw him into a brawl if Matthews gets a little too willing to engage and mix things up.

Matthews is a healthy favourite, and should be, but this is a key “prove it’s real” moment in his career, and how Saturday’s contest plays out will have a significant impact on where he stands heading into 2023 and his prospects for the future.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.