Bed-Ridden to Bracelet Hunting: Mike Matusow’ s New Motivation

Mike Matusow in the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Championship.

More casual poker fans know more about Mike Matusow‘s ups and downs than who won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2011. Matusow’s story connects with millions – he’s been broke, he’s been to jail, he’s suffered from depression and he’s clawed his way back to the top of the game.

But over the last year Matusow suffered the most debilitating beat of his life. During the 2014 WSOP Matusow was suffering, but he didn’t know from what. He wasn’t playing well, he couldn’t concentrate and experienced numbness and tingling in his feet.

“After three hours I was completely winded – I didn’t know why,” he said. “I had EKGs, everything, and because it was thoracic you don’t get pain in the area. They couldn’t figure out what it was.”

Multiple trips to multiple doctors revealed a very serious injury – a seven millimetre ventral disc protrusion in his back which cut off 80% of his blood flow to his lower extremities. “It was causing me all kinds of neurological malfunctions where I was misplaying every hand,” he said.

“Two months after the WSOP I couldn’t walk at all, my legs were almost gone,” Matusow said. “I’m lucky I wasn’t paralyzed.”

The surgery needed to repair the issue was invasive, traumatic and left him bed-ridden for months. He was in some form of medical care from the end of the 2014 WSOP through February.

Mike Matusow ChairPart of the recovery process was learning how to walk again. Just bringing up the subject made Matusow flinch. “Oh my god, you don’t even know. I’ve got videos of all that,” he said. “When I win this bracelet I’m going to show everybody what I had to go through. I’m on a mission to win because of what I experienced.”

“I’ve told people that back in ’04 when I got screwed over and put in jail for something I didn’t do, the whole time I was in jail all I thought about was coming out and winning the World Series,” he said. “I final tabled the Main Event and won the Tournament of Champions, this reminds of me of that. I have a fire, I want to win so bad because what I went through was way more horrific than jail. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

The countless hours he spent in bed and rehabbing gave Matusow a new drive to succeed. “I found a love and passion for poker again – which I didn’t have,” he said. “Last year I didn’t want to be here – I was in pain and hated being here. This year I want to be here, I want to try and win – I want to grind.”

“The thing I learned the most about 2014 was that I was very sick and didn’t know. I was making so many mistakes every day. I went to the doctor and thought there was something neurologically wrong with me – and there was,” Matusow said. “Not to make excuses for what happened last year, but everything made sense afterwards – after the operation.”

“Everything that I was going through – it all made sense. This year I’m not having any of that. I’m not playing bad. I’m having days where I’m sitting in pain,” he said. “When I’m in pain I have to take another pain med, which I don’t like, but I gotta do what I gotta do. I can’t play when I’m in pain, and that’s what was wrong last year.”

Matusow is playing a lighter schedule this year to lessen the toll on his body. “I’m feeling pretty good – my walking is about 100% now. The only thing is, if I walk a lot I get nerve pain in my side – it’s called intercostal neuralgia,” Matusow said. “It’s very painful and the doctor’s hoping it will be gone in three to six more months, other than that I’m feeling pretty good.”

The condition also requires him to wear a lidocaine patch. “It’s nerve pain from where they have to shave your ribs to get into the thoracic cavity. They stretch your muscle where your ribs are and one out of a thousand people the nerve gets caught in the muscle growing back which causes severe pain. The doctor originally thought I was going to need another surgery, but I’ve not had any spasms since I put on the patch. I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t have to do (another surgery).”

Matusow has been getting around the Rio on a scooter because long walks are an issue for him. “I wasn’t able to prepare like I normally do. Before the World Series I would work out everyday and get in shape so I could make it through the long days it takes to win a tournament,” he said.

“Unfortunately since I was bed-ridden from the end of last year’s WSOP until February 16th, it was very tough,” he added. “But I am (tough) mentally. I’m not going to be playing many tournaments – maybe five more at the most. I’ll try and play my best events and grind through them. I’ve been playing a lot of cash, I had a losing session the other day, but other than that I’ve been doing pretty good.”

Matusow got a late start in the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Championship on Monday. “I believe I’m the best Omaha Eight or Better 8 player in the world. Yeah, I’m the favorite but that doesn’t mean anything. I gotta bring it, gotta play great, my mental game has to be there,” he said.

“Because I’m still on a lot of pain medication it’s very hard for me to stay focused all the time. I felt like in the O8/Stud8 I had tremendous focus on Day 1 and 2. Even though I had a lot of chips I took three of the worst beats I’ve ever taken in back-to-back-to-back hands,” Matusow said. “In the same day I jumped in the Pot Limit Hold’em, played as good as I can play and finished the day with four big bets.”

While Matusow did take a few days off from the Rio, he spent much of it in a two-day cash game in which he left as a small loser, relatively. Then he hosted a charity event the night prior and had a few drinks. He slept 15 hours before late registering his favorite event.

“I’m not going to play that many tournaments – unless I happen to win this. It’s just so grueling on my body that after I play I have to take two to three days off. It’s too much for me,” he said. “I’m just trying to grind through it.”

“I got financially crippled from my surgery and my bills are $10,000 – 15,000 a month. The bad year I had last year and then I lost big in cash right before (WSOP). I had only one losing month cash in my life then I had back-to-back months before the WSOP,” Matusow added.

“It was all created with the injury. I couldn’t figure out why I was playing so bad. I’ve been playing great all year since I came back. I’m up over $200,000 in cash and I think I’ve had like three losing days since February.”

Matusow bagged up an average stack for Day 2, went on an early slide but rebounded to above the starting stack by the second break.

“I’ve want to win the Omaha Hi-Lo Championship again, I’m the only one that has won it and the Stud 8 Championship,” Matusow continued. “But winning this championship again would mean more to me than any other tournaments.”

But Matusow didn’t win the Championship – he didn’t cash either. He lost some chips, got short and made a stand. He ran out of luck and was eliminated before the dinner break.

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Paul Oresteen

Senior Writer: Paul Oresteen originally joined BLUFF in 2008 as an intern. He covered two World Series of Poker’s before leaving to join PokerNews.com. After a two year hiatus Oresteen returned to BLUFF in November 2012. Since starting as a poker journalist Oresteen has covered the World Series of Poker, WSOP Circuit, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour. He graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in Communications in 2008.
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