Former welterweight champ should be remembered as such
There is a chance that UFC 135 will mark the last time Matt Hughes steps into the Octagon.
On the last fight of his contract and three weeks away from turning 38, Hughes said during Monday’s conference call that ultimately the decision on his future will be up to Dana White. That may be the case for his future in the cage, but it’s not the case when it comes to where he stands in the pantheon of all-time greats.
His place in the history of this sport will be determined by the fans and how they remember his career; his wins and losses, the fighters he’s beaten, and the long list of achievements that highlight his resume.
It will depend on how much of a revisionist filter his fighting career is put through; whether his dominant years before the explosion of The Ultimate Fighter are remembered for what they were or if his 4-4 run over the last five years becomes the “yeah, but” that is used to lessen his accomplishments.
Hughes is the fighting equivalent of Nirvana for me: not my personal cup of tea, but someone whose impact and achievements cannot be denied.
During a five year stretch from March 2001 to September 2006, Hughes went 19-1, including a 12-1 record inside the Octagon. In that span, Hughes experienced the signature moments of his career:
– winning the UFC welterweight title from Carlos Newton at UFC 34
– five straight title defenses against “Mach” Sakurai, Newton, Gil Castillo, Sean Sherk and Frank Trigg
– losing the title to BJ Penn at UFC 46
– handing Georges St-Pierre the first loss of his career at UFC 50
– his come-from-behind, carry-him-across-the-cage-and-slam-him victory over Trigg in their second fight
– defeating Royce Gracie at UFC 60 and avenging his loss to Penn four months later at UFC 63
No matter what has happened since, both in Hughes’ career and the sport overall, that stretch is one of the best five-year runs in the history of MMA, and it needs to be remembered as such.
But I fear that it won’t.
Time changes the way people remember things. The evolution of the sport and it’s athletes strips away some of the greatness of those that came before them, as if what they achieved in an early time is less impressive now that the fighters have gotten bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic.
Like many other former champions in the twilight of their career, Hughes’ wins over Newton, Sakurai, Trigg, and others will be viewed in terms of where those fighters ended up, rather than at that moment in time. These were the best welterweight fighters in the world at that time, and Hughes beat them all.
Prior to the impressive streaks currently maintained by St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, Hughes’ string of five consecutive title defenses match stood alongside Tito Ortiz’s run in the light heavyweight division as the longest reigns in UFC history. The importance and impressiveness of that feat doesn’t change now that St-Pierre has bested it.
Saturday night will mark Hughes’ 25th trip inside the Octagon, equaling Ortiz for the most in the history of the UFC. He’s 18-6 thus far, and whether he ends up 19-6 or 18-7 doesn’t do anything to change the fact that Hughes is one of the very best to grace the Octagon, and one of the best ever in MMA history.
I just hope he gets remembered that way.