Believe it or not, somebody not named Georges St-Pierre once held the UFC welterweight title. The dominant champion prior to St-Pierre's reign was Matt Hughes.
Matt Serra was able to defeat GSP to win the belt, but other than him, it has been Hughes and St-Pierre on top of the UFC's welterweight division. Fans of today are fascinated with the ease with which St-Pierre defeats his opponents, but it's not anything we haven't seen before.
Hughes entered the UFC all the way back at UFC 22 against Valeri Ignatov. However, Hughes wouldn't become a mainstay in the UFC until UFC 34 in 2001. That bout became one of the most memorable fights in UFC history.
The UFC welterweight title was up for grabs as Hughes faced Canada's Carlos Newton. Hughes found himself caught in a triangle choke with no viable way out. Hughes entered "Hulk Smash 'Em" mode and picked Newton off the ground.
Hughes slammed Newton to the mat, causing Newton to go unconscious. Hughes was awarded the UFC title but was choked unconscious himself and initially had no idea he had won.
Following the title victory, Hughes won his next three fights via TKO, including the rematch against Newton at UFC 38. At UFC 45, Hughes would encounter his first career rival.
Frank Trigg entered the UFC with the specific goal in mind of taking out Hughes for the title. Two rear naked chokes later and Trigg was out of the UFC title picture forever.
Sandwiched between the Trigg bouts was Hughes' shocking upset loss to former lightweight champion BJ Penn. The loss sent shockwaves throughout the MMA community as Hughes was heavily favoured to defeat the much smaller Penn.
At UFC 50 Hughes was able to defeat a young challenger with the last name of St-Pierre. Hughes secured the tap out due to an arm bar with only one second remaining in first round.
Hughes would run a streak of six-straight victories after the Penn loss until his rematch with GSP. Hughes lost the bout in what became a symbolic passing of the torch, as Hughes represented the "old guard" with St-Pierre representing the future.
The former welterweight champion would never again become the dominant force he once was, as Hughes sported just a 4-4 record since the second fight with GSP. After the loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 135, many fans speculated that Hughes may step away from the game, and all signs seem to point to Hughes becoming the farmer rather than the fighter.
What will Hughes' legacy be if UFC 135 was his final appearance?
Without a question Hughes' legacy will be that of one of the all time greats in MMA. The era of dominance shown by Hughes is unrivaled by anyone in the division other than GSP.
St-Pierre will be credited with a lot of things in the welterweight division, but he owes a lot to Hughes accomplishing so much before him. Without defeating a dominant legend like Hughes, St-Pierre could've possibly never become the superstar he was.
Other than Hughes becoming one of the most dominant forces in the UFC, the guy has also been involved in some of the most memorable fights in UFC history. There's the aforementioned battles with GSP, Penn and Trigg, but fans shouldn't forget his battle with Royce Gracie either.
Everyone expected Hughes, a fighter who was still in his prime, to defeat Gracie, but there was still the chance of the Brazilian pulling off another miracle. Hughes' defeat of Gracie became similarly symbolic of a torch passing due to Gracie being the "old guard" and Hughes not so much representing the future but merely the present.
Hughes' accomplishments, like so many of his seasoned veteran colleagues, happened well before the explosion in popularity brought by The Ultimate Fighter and will likely be forgotten or diminished in memory.
He definitely was not always a popular fighter with the fans, but Hughes brought his "A" game every time he stepped into the Octagon. Possessing a dominant wrestling background combined with submission skills, Hughes conquered his foes despite being completely one-dimensional.
Ultimately Hughes will go down as one of the greatest fighters to step foot in the cage but will likely be shadowed by St-Pierre's accomplishments.
Still, Hughes should feel at ease knowing he ruled the landscape at 170 pounds in the UFC for five years and will forever be enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame.
It appears country boys can survive after all.
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