Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew Riddle has been blazing quite the trail for a guy who went from a brief collegiate wrestling career straight into a 4-0 run as an MMA fighter.  What’s even crazier, this talented young man went from a 1-0 amateur record straight into UFC action by way of The Ultimate Fighter.

As a member of the season-seven TUF cast, Riddle earned his spot in the house with a vicious knockout of Matt Serra prospect Dan Simmler.  This was extremely impressive, considering he got his start in MMA by training at his apartment gym to the tune of a B.J. Penn book.  His only other fight experience was as a state and national high school wrestling champ, plus his two-year stint in college.

Although Riddle didn’t make it past the elimination round of the show, he still got his professional debut at the season finale in the Octagon, of all places.  In his first pro fight ever, Riddle beat show rival Dante Rivera by unanimous decision, thus embarking on a great career.

Riddle (Sherdog)

All of Riddle’s pro fights have taken place in the eight-sided UFC cage.  In his 7-3-1 career, he has gone to decision seven times, so he is a tough fighter with a big gas tank.  He has only been stopped once—in his first loss—by knockout, with his other two losses coming by decision. Last July, Riddle fought Chris Clements and won by third-round submission—a “Submission of the Night” performance—but that win was overturned to a no-contest after he tested positive for marijuana. His last fight was at UFC 154 in November against England’s John Maguire, a brown belt in BJJ.  Although Riddle is normally a get-in-your face brawler, he chose a different route to avoid getting caught in a bad position.

“John Maguire had a great ground game and his takedown defense was pretty good,” explained Riddle in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner.  “The one thing I did at that point, and I was pretty impressed with myself, I stuck to the game plan.  I didn’t get overzealous and try to bulldog him the whole time.  I stopped his takedowns.  I was impressed with that, because usually I just go out there wild, and stuff happens, you know?”

Riddle took the win by unanimous decision, extending his unbeaten streak to three in a row, with all three victories coming in 2012.  It was about a month later that he was already answering another call from the UFC.

“I actually had a decent amount of time to prepare for this,” Riddle said.  “They called me right before Christmas or right after.  I think it was after Christmas.  They called me right after Christmas and told me about the fight.  [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva asked me if I wanted to go back to England, and I told Joe I did not want to go back to England, because I was spit on and called nasty names last time I was there.  Then, Joe Silva said if I beat Che Mills in London, he would get me Dan Hardy.  So, I said, ‘Okay, Joe. Send over the contract.’  And, he did.”

For most fighters, getting the call only a month after a three-round war might cause a little hesitation.  However, Riddle is not like most fighters and is no stranger to going on short notice.

“The last two fights I had, the one with Chris Clements and the one with John Maguire, I’ve been fighting smarter,” Riddle elaborated.  “And, I fight hard always.  But I’m fighting smarter in the sense that I’m not just standing there whipping haymakers at people’s heads.  I haven’t been getting hurt, because of that.  I like it.  I’m winning fights, I have no injuries, and I can fight more and more.  Also, the last two fights I took on three weeks’ notice or less.  The Maguire fight I took on three weeks, and the Clements fight I took on nine days.  It was nice for this camp that I actually had a camp.  I think I’m just hitting my stride.  I’m hitting my prime.  I’m 27.  I’ve been fighting in the UFC since I was 22.”

Here’s a guy who was a high school wrestling champ, who initially trained himself in MMA, and who’s only fought professionally under the UFC banner.  While that is extremely impressive, Riddle eventually got himself in with good training camps, and his current camp could easily be the best yet.

“I’ve been over at Drysdale’s Jiu-Jitsu,” Riddle explained.  “I’ve been working my hands with James McSweeney and doing jits with Robert Drysdale.  They have another guy, Kyle Griffin, Tyson Griffin’s brother.  He’s one of the wrestling guys there, and he’s an Oklahoma State All-American.  He’s a stud wrestler.  That’s where I’ve been doing all of my training.  People come in and spar on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  I’m pretty good.  I’ve been happy where I’m at now.  It’s been a nice transition, and it works for me.”

With a great camp and more time to get ready, Riddle is ready to go for his next fight against Mills at UFC On Fuel TV: Barao vs McDonald tomorrow in London.  Although, he’s starting to think that he maybe had too much time.

“Having more time for a fight, I thought it was a good thing, but I peak really quickly,” admitted Riddle.  “I think I only need like four or five weeks max to train for a fight.  I think, in the future, I’m just going to tell Joe Silva, if he wants me to fight on a card, just tell me four or five weeks beforehand.  Even if he knows a year in advance, don’t tell me then.  Just tell me like four or five weeks out.  And I’ll sign the contract and get everything done.

Riddle (L) throws a kick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“I’m one of those guys who stays in shape all the time.  I train four times a week, regardless.  And the second I find out I got a fight, I’m in the gym three times a day.  And before I know it, I already peaked, and I’m like, ‘What happened?’  This time, I knew I was going to peak early.  I was already in shape from the Maguire fight.  So, I just stayed in gradual shape.  Then, I picked up the last couple weeks.  I can’t wait.  I ran three-and-a-half miles in 22 minutes the other day, which is like a six-minute mile.  I’m in freakish shape.  I can’t wait just to push the pace on Mills, and I hope he brings his A-game as well.  I think this will be an awesome fight.  He’s got great striking, great conditioning, and as long as I don’t just take him down and beat him up too bad, I think it will be an exciting fight.”

Sold on the idea of staying on plan, Riddle’s not exactly sure how the fight will go, but he’s ready for anything.  Mills, on the other hand, is definitely a striker, with eight of his 15 wins coming by knockout, but he also has a big gas tank, having gone the distance on four occasions.  However, the majority of Mills’ losses have come by submission, and Riddle’s base fighting experience is in wrestling.

“If I stick to the game plan that everybody wants me to stick to, I will probably submit him in the second round, or first round, or, maybe TKO him in the third,” Riddle predicted.  “He’s a pretty tough guy.  I saw Rory [MacDonald] landing some power shots on him on the ground.  The thing about Che, he didn’t get knocked out.  The ref didn’t stop it, you know?  So, he’s a tough dude.  His weakness is the submission game.  It’s the ground game.  So, if I play to my strengths, I’ll probably sub him in the fight.

“Then again, it’s me.  I don’t know what I’ll do once I get out there, you know?  Maybe it’ll just be a brawl.  Che Mills and me will just have a bloody fight.  I think if I keep it standing, he’ll probably win the stand-up exchanges, but I’ll probably land a couple shots and hurt him a little.  Bottom line, I think I’ll need to mix it up, just like I did with Clements—strike with him, take him down.  When he’s thinking about the takedown, I can strike a little more.  I’ve got to mix it up.  It’s an MMA fight.”

Although Riddle has his sights set on Dan Hardy as his next foe, that is not the fight that Riddle is expecting.  This is not due to Silva avoiding his end of the deal, but rather because Riddle thinks he will want a better opponent.

“Dan Hardy’s fighting Matt Brown a month and a half after I fight,” explained Riddle.  “Like I said, the way I’m training and the way I feel, I feel really good, I’m in my groove. I’m not trying to wait four or five months to fight Dan Hardy, even if he wins.  I personally don’t think he’s going to beat Matt Brown.  Matt Brown’s going to knock him out.  I’m not really trying to be on a four-fight win streak and then fight Dan Hardy.  That just doesn’t sound cool to me at all.  I know I won’t get the fight with Dan Hardy.  Even though Joe Silva said I would, [Hardy] won’t sign the contract.  [John] Hathaway wants to fight me.  So, I’m thinking, after this fight, I’ll call Hathaway out.  Maybe we can make that happen.”

Another Englishman, Hathaway is a big step up for Riddle.  Hathaway, at only 25 years old, has been in the UFC almost as long as Riddle, but has been a pro for two years longer.  He’s on a three-fight winning streak with only one loss to Mike Pyle.  Hathaway also holds notable wins over Rick Story, Diego Sanchez and Pascal Krauss.  Assuming Riddle beats Mills, this would be a stellar bout for Joe Silva to put together.

Outside of MMA, Riddle keeps things on a pretty even keel, balancing family life with the typical life of a guy in his late-20’s.

“When I’m not training, I’ve got the fam, so I hang out with the kids and ma, you know?  I have a wife, and I hang out with them,” said Riddle.  “I’m really a family guy, but my last fight, I got sponsored by an electric skateboard company, and they gave me some skateboards that are like R.C. cars, except they’re meant for people and go about thirty miles an hour.  I rip around the streets in Vegas on my electric skateboard.  I hang out with some friends.  I take care of my family.  I have a dog, and I hang out with him too.  I play a lot of video games.  I eat a lot of food.  I enjoy the finer things in life.”

But don’t get the family man confused with the brawler.  Riddle has had all his pro fights in the UFC for a reason.

“I want people to know that, regardless of the outcome of a fight, I’m never upset,” Riddle confessed. “I don’t care if I win.  I don’t care if I lose.  I don’t care if I get a no-contest, to be honest.  I’m there to have fun.  I’m there to fight, and I’m going to put on a show.  Win, lose or draw, my goal is to inflict as much damage in 15 minutes as I can on the other person.  Let’s be honest, that’s what the fans love.  I’ve never heard a fan go crazy about a grappling match.  They like the Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar’s, you know?  They love a war.  When I fight, that’s what I’m going for.  If that doesn’t happen, it’s usually because my opponent is not willing to step up.”

That’s what Riddle is all about.  He’s a light-hearted guy that wants to do one thing—entertain.  Fortunately, he knows what people really want to see.  Unlike some fighters that like to make a display of themselves outside the ring, Riddle wants to entertain in the cage, where the fans really want to see the action.

Matthew would like to thank Retail Design Group in Canada, Octagon Employment, Sammy’s Pizza in Calgary, Revgear, and everyone else who made this possible.  Follow Riddle on Twitter: @riddletuf7 

Top Photo: Matt Riddle (James Law/Heavy MMA)