Before Georges St-Pierre owned the welterweight division there was Matt Hughes. The good ol’ boy from Hillsboro, Ill. was one of the first fighters to lead the charge when the UFC exited the “dark ages” and began its march toward becoming a major sports league. The former two-time NCAA Division I All American wrestler has a list of UFC accolades a mile long: Most wins in the UFC (16), Most UFC title defenses (seven), Most consecutive title defenses (five), Most wins in the welterweight division and the list goes on and on. He is still recognized today as the most dominant UFC champion in the history of the company. Even though he is entering the twilight of his legendary career, Hughes continues to fight top tier competition. On Sat., April 12, Hughes will step into the cage with Renzo Gracie as the two iconic figures will fight in front of thousands at UFC 112: Invincible. Before that fight takes place, Fightmagazine.com offers at look at some of the best and worst moments of Hughes’ historic career.
UFC 34: 11/2/01
Def. Carlos Newton by KO (Slam) – 1:27 of Round 2
Carlos Newton was fresh off of defeating Hughes’ mentor Pat Militich at UFC 31 so the fight had duel storylines entering UFC 34. As long as Militich was champ and Hughes was part of Militich Fighting Systems, he wouldn’t get a shot at the welterweight title. In essence, Newton’s bulldog headlock submission victory was a blessing in disguise. With this being one of the first UFC events during the Zuffa era, Hughes had an opportunity to make a statement by avenging the leader of Militich Fighting Systems and claiming the welterweight title. The statement was made by one of the most brutal slam knockouts ever witnessed.
Hughes started off the first round big and scored against the talented Newton with a bevy of high impact slams. But Newton – a talented fighter in his own right at the time – showcased his Jiu Jitsu pedigree by reversing Hughes twice and it looked as if the two would battle to a stalemate. That was until the second round provided “The Slam Heard ‘Round The World.”
During the second frame, Newton locked in a deep triangle choke from the bottom position that looked like it would immediately put the All American to sleep. It actually did, but not exactly how Newton planned it. As a matter of fact, Newton never got to see the effects of the choke. As Hughes found himself struggling to survive, he lifted Newton high into the air, walked him from the center of the Octagon and draped the Canadian along the top of the cage. Newton cinched the choke in as tight as he could while pulling Hughes head down for added pressure. In a last ditch effort, Hughes pulled Newton off the cage and slammed him via power bomb with the impact only seen in World Wrestling Entertainment. The slam knocked Newton out cold and referee John McCarthy awarded Hughes the match and the championship. What McCarthy didn’t notice was that the choke had put Hughes to sleep at nearly the exact same moment. As Newton lay motionless on the canvas, Hughes would regain his senses and seemed almost shocked himself at what just transpired. To this day, it is one of the most memorable moments in MMA history.
UFC 52: 4/16/05
Def. Frank Trigg by Submission (RNC) – 4:05 of Round 1
There was a tremendous amount bad blood between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg entering UFC 52. Trigg had already dropped his first bout against Hughes and was seeking revenge. Hughes, never one to seem upset, was visibly perturbed by Trigg’s antics and wanted nothing more to shut him up. It was one of those fights with a storyline that could turn a casual fan into a die-hard MMA junkie.
The stare down was epic in and of itself. Trigg and Hughes stared holes into one another as referee Mario Yamasaki ran down the usual fight protocol. Not one to be intimidated, Trigg stepped forward and went nose to nose with Hughes. A tough guy in his own right, Hughes gave Trigg a shove as Mark Goldberg proclaimed “Now that’s a stare down baby!” The fight itself wasn’t too shabby either.
About a minute into the fight, Hughes and Trigg were jockeying for position within the clinch. Hughes pushed Trigg to the fence but took a shot to the groin courtesy of a “Twinkletoes” knee. Hughes winced in pain and looked in the direction of Yamasaki for help. All he got was a three-punch combination from Trigg as he retreated in obvious pain. As Hughes sank to the canvas, Joe Rogan already declared that Hughes was out. Trigg continued to pelt away with vicious strikes but Hughes managed to survive. What followed next was one of the most amazing sequences ever witnessed in an MMA bout.
With Trigg fully mounted and looking to finish, Hughes rolled over and gave his back to the Judo expert. Trigg immediately sank in a rear naked choke and it looked as if he would avenge his loss to Hughes by using the exact same move that put him away two years ago. As Hughes began to fade to black, he turned into Trigg’s armpit and escaped what looked to be an inevitable loss. Hughes would then somehow manage to muster up the strength to scoop Trigg off the canvas, run the entire length of the cage and slam him to the mat. With the crowd going absolutely berserk at what they just witnessed, Hughes transitioned from side control into full mount. He then offered some ground and pound of his own before Trigg gave Hughes the gift of his back. What Trigg couldn’t do, Hughes gleefully obliged. Just like UFC 45, Hughes sunk in a rear naked choke, got Trigg to tap and completed one of the most unbelievable comebacks in UFC history.
UFC 60: 5/27/06
Def. Royce Gracie by TKO (Punches) – 4:39 of Round 1
Hughes was on a roll and staking his claim as the greatest welterweight of all time. He had just steamrolled Georges St-Pierre, Frank Trigg and Joe Riggs consecutively with first round finishes. It appeared that there was nobody left on the current UFC roster that could defeat Matt Hughes. But perhaps someone from the UFC’s past could shake things up. That individual was the legendary Royce Gracie.
It was billed as the “Dream Match” with Gracie setting the standard in MMA with his submission fighting and Hughes representing today’s evolved fighter. The stage was set at UFC 60 inside of Los Angeles’ Staples Center to see if it was time for the torch to be passed or if Gracie was still the mythical figure many made him out to be.
It didn’t take long to find out that the legendary Brazilian was a mere mortal to Hughes’ superman. Gracie Jiu Jitsu was a nonfactor as Hughes wasted no time taking the legend to the mat and quickly securing side control. As Gracie looked to wriggle free and find an opening, Hughes shocked everyone inside of the home of the Los Angeles Lakers with a kimura attempt. Gracie had never been submitted inside of the Octagon but Hughes was putting a tremendous amount of torque on the arm with the submission attempt. Realizing the Brazilian was never going to tap, Hughes let the arm go and swiftly transitioned to Gracie’s back. With both hooks sunk in, Hughes proceeded to flatten the legendary jiujitsu practitioner and began raining punches to the head of Gracie. Some thought that Gracie could somehow survive the final 30 seconds of the first round, but Hughes continued to clobber his opponent until referee John McCarthy saved the legend from anymore punishment at the 4:39 mark of round one.
The victory not only proved that Matt Hughes was the gold standard of today’s well versed MMA fighter, it also stretched the appeal of Hughes beyond the cult MMA fan.
UFC 46: 1/31/04
Loss to BJ Penn by Submission (RNC) – 4:39 of Round 1
It’s certainly no joy to step into the cage with BJ Penn. Hughes found that out the hard way when the two squared off at UFC 46 for Hughes’ Welterweight title. Hughes was on a thirteen-fight winning streak and was looking almost indestructible. Penn was moving up in weight to challenge Hughes as the champ had cleaned out the division and was seeking new challenges. Hughes was heavily favored to win, but there’s a reason why they call Baby Jay “The Prodigy.”
“We’re going to find out if (the move up in weight) is courageous or foolhardy,” Joe Rogan said as the two met in the center of the Octagon. The questions about how Penn would handle the weight jump were answered immediately. An ill-fated takedown attempt found Penn falling into Hughes’ guard, which was certainly something that Hughes wishes he could have taken back. The Hawaiian swarmed Hughes and put his incredible ground game to work. After jockeying for a dominant position for nearly the duration of the round, Penn finally snaked his way to Hughes back with just under a minute left and went right for the kill. Seconds later, Hughes was tapping to Penn via rear naked choke and failed to defend his welterweight title for the sixth time. It wasn’t that Penn was a huge underdog who won the title, it was the fact that he made it look so easy.
UFC 79: 12/29/07
Loss to Georges St-Pierre by Submission (Armbar) – 4:54 of Round 2
The first time Hughes lost to GSP, you could write it off as a bad night by one of the all-time greats. The second loss signaled a changing of the guard in the welterweight division. It was originally scheduled to be a bout between Hughes and the man who knocked out GSP, Matt Serra, at UFC 79 as both were coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. But when Serra went down with an injury, St-Pierre stepped up and the stage was set for a rubber match to decide who would become Interim Welterweight Champion.
A newly refocused St-Pierre made mince meat out of Hughes the second time around. It wasn’t that Hughes had become a lesser fighter, it was the fact that “Rush” had taken his game to new heights. From the outset it was clear that GSP was leaps and bounds ahead of Hughes. The country boy couldn’t take St-Pierre down in the first round. When the fight did get to the mat, courtesy of a beautifully executed takedown by the French-Canadian, Hughes found himself dominated like never before. At the end of the first round, St-Pierre was in complete control and Hughes was searching for an answer.
It didn’t take long for St-Pierre to get Hughes to the mat in the second stanza. Even though the collegiate All-American would rise, he found himself being outclassed by GSP. After being tossed to the mat yet again, Hughes found himself victim to a kimura attempt as “Rush” looked to close the show. Hughes valiantly tried to muscle out of the submission attempt, but found himself trapped in a vicious armbar that gave him no choice but to verbally submit and hand the future of the division to Georges St. Pierre.
UFC 85: 6/7/08
Loss to Thiago Alves by TKO (Strikes) – 1:02 of Round 2
The whispers that Matt Hughes was in the twilight of his career were growing to a howl when Hughes stepped into the Octagon against Thiago Alves.
Twenty seconds into the bout, Hughes shot for a takedown but Alves shrugged him off and set the table for what was to come. Another failed takedown attempt forced Hughes to pull guard in order to get the fight to the ground. The “Pitbull” would have none of it and smacked Hughes with a punch before getting back to his feet. Hughes would finally take Alves down, but could not inflect any serious damage. It was the second time that Hughes was not the strongest man in the cage since Georges St-Pierre dominated him six months earlier.
The second round saw Hughes’ face pay the price for a failed takedown as Alves clocked him with a knee as Hughes shot for the legs. The former champ was bloodied up and Alves was searching for a way to finish. After a few moments on the ground, both Alves and Hughes would scramble to their feet. Hughes was looking for another takedown attempt but Alves skipped away and created some space away from the now battered welterweight. The “Pitbull” then came flying at Hughes and caught him with a knee to the temple that collapsed Hughes – injuring his knee badly – and spelled the second straight loss for one of the UFC’s all time greats.
It was evident that the field not only caught up, but was now running past the future Hall Of Famer.