For UFC legend Matt Hughes, an illustrious career full of championship fights and belts around his waist has led to this, an April 10 match up with Renzo Gracie at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Hughes’ legendary career in the UFC began in 2001 with a bang, when he warded off a submission attempt from Carlos Newton with a brutal knockout slam to earn the Illinois native the UFC welterweight belt. He followed the victory with a technical knockout victory over Hayato Sakurai at UFC 36 in his first title defense, but Hughes was only getting warmed up.
Building on his rampage through the most elite welterweights in the promotion, Hughes defeated Carlos Newton in a rematch, Gil Castilla via technical knockout, Sean Sherk via decision, and Frank Trigg via submission, remaining undefeated in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and further solidifying himself as a champion.
Yet, even after five title defenses, Hughes was not prepared for what challenge the UFC would throw at him next, as BJ Penn looked to remove the 170-pound belt from Hughes’ grasp. Penn brought the action to Hughes and secured a rear naked choke in the very first round, stealing away Hughes’ title of UFC welterweight champion and ending the dominant welterweight’s reign.
However, Hughes was granted the opportunity to gain back the 170-pound hardware at UFC 50, but he did not have the chance to avenge his loss to BJ Penn, as Georges “Rush” St. Pierre stood between Hughes and the championship belt. Hughes was well accustomed to battling into the championship rounds and was certainly prepared to go all five with his tough opponent. However, he needed just under five minutes to submit St. Pierre via armbar, winning the vacant UFC welterweight championship.
Having earned back his welterweight belt, Hughes, looking to reestablish himself as the dominant champion of old, was matched up against Frank Trigg in a rematch from their fight at UFC 45. Just as he did in the first match up, Hughes was able to secure a rear naked choke, forcing a tap out of Trigg.
However, with Joe Riggs missing weight in what would have been the second title defense for Hughes, followed by a catchweight match up with Royce Gracie, Hughes did not defend his belt for over one year, though he did gain victories in each bout.
When Hughes did finally return to the 170-pound division to defend his welterweight title, standing across the cage from him at UFC 63 was BJ Penn, giving Hughes a much desired shot at revenge. Unlike the first match up, Hughes was able to ward off a tight submission attempt from Penn and took the fight into his own hands. With Penn wearing down after the first two rounds, Hughes brought down a vicious dose of ground and pound to the challenging, forcing a technical knockout stoppage in the third round.
However, the sweet taste of revenge for Hughes was mirrored by the next top contender, Georges St. Pierre.
In the rematch from their 2004 title fight, Hughes and St. Pierre battled at UFC 65: “Bad Intentions”. The much-improved challenger dominated Hughes, knocking him out in the second round. The loss was the second time the welterweight belt left Hughes’ waist and, perhaps, the last time.
After working towards yet another shot at UFC gold, Hughes defeated Chris Lytle at UFC 68, earning him a shot at the UFC welterweight interim title and a rematch with Georges St. Pierre at UFC 79. St. Pierre, looking better than ever, submitted Hughes in the last seconds of the second round, ending Hughes’ dream of holding the welterweight title one last time.
Since the rubbermatch loss to St. Pierre, Hughes has taken a much different path in the welterweight division. Following a vicious technical knockout loss to Thiago Alves, the former champion rebounded with a UFC 98 victory over rival Matt Serra.
And that brings Hughes to where he is today. Still many victories away from another title shot and another shot against St. Pierre, the man with the most title defenses in the history of the welterweight division, looks to continue on one last run for the welterweight gold with a victory at UFC 112 against Renzo Gracie.
Whether or not Hughes gains that final opportunity to hold the welterweight belt like he had for years before seems unlikely at this point in his career. However, his legacy in the sport is not one to be forgotten, regardless of how the next couple of years and fights go for him. Hughes has developed one of the greatest careers in the history in the UFC, and will go down as one of the most extraordinary champions of all time.
His bout against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will certainly display exactly what he has left in the tank, but with a career like Hughes’, the result of his fight on Saturday is irrelevant. He may be riding out his last couple of years of fighting competing against middle of the pack welterweights, but, looking back at his career, he has definitely earned it. His spot in UFC history is secure, and, love him or hate him, Hughes’ legacy will live on in the history of mixed martial arts.