Matt Hughes: Ranking His 10 Best Fights
The news came quickly and quietly. Matt Hughes, until a few years ago the best welterweight ever, kind of sort of announced in the not-exactly-nationally-circulated Iowa Daily Gate that, yes, he is fully retired.
But then, the plot thickened a few days later when he backtracked on The MMA Hour broadcast.
So the jury remains confused on the state of affairs here, but it's probably safe to say that the end is either very near or already here for the multi-time UFC champion.
As one of MMA's great careers taxis into the hangar, why not take a moment to celebrate all those memories he left us in the cage? Here's a ranking of his 10 best performances.
10. Laverne Clark
Event: Extreme Challenge 29
Date: Nov. 13, 1999
Result: Hughes by submission, Rd. 2.
It was Hughes' third win of the night and netted him his first title of any kind, in the form of the Extreme Challenge 29 tournament title.
Check out this highly enjoyable old-school fight video. Nice wrestling shoes.
9. Ricardo Almeida
Event: UFC 117
Date: Aug. 7, 2010
Result: Hughes by submission, Rd. 1.
By the time he notched an uninspiring 2010 TKO of 43-year-old Renzo Gracie, Hughes' fight schedule was lightening substantially, and the questions were coming up about his ability to continue competing at the highest levels (a 2-1 record over a two-year span will do that).
But with one huge punch and a crazy sort of headlock choke thing, Hughes handed jiu-jitsu black belt Ricardo Almeida his first submission loss, garnered a Submission of the Night bonus check and kept the retirement wolves at bay for another year.
8. Matt Serra
Event: UFC 98
Date: May 23, 2009
Result: Hughes by unanimous decision
This may have been the second-biggest grudge match of Hughes' career. Matt Serra despised Hughes for what he saw as mistreatment of contestants and peers during their time as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. The brash New Yorker and the farmboy from the Heartland couldn't have been more different.
Hughes used his wrestling to subdue Serra and take the victory and the bragging rights.
7. Royce Gracie
Event: UFC 60
Date: May 27, 2006
Result: Hughes by TKO, Rd. 1
Looking back, it seems like a silly carnival fight, but at the time there was a good amount of intrigue. Could Gracie's jiu-jitsu still level the playing field against opponents who seemed to have him outgunned?
As it happens, Hughes turned the tables on the legend, applying an armbar on the former tournament champ. A grim-faced Gracie refused to succumb, and Hughes relinquished the hold and simply pounded out the 38-year-old.
6. Frank Trigg I
Event: UFC 45
Date: Nov. 21, 2003
Result: Hughes by submission, Rd. 1
And now for the first big rivalry of Hughes' career. Major verbal garbage was winging its way through the air in the days and weeks leading up to this fight.
Hughes, as he tended to do, had the last word in the cage, when he took Frank Trigg's back, got his hooks in, applied a deep choke and hung on even when Trigg stood up (and later fell backward) for the win.
5. Hayato Sakurai
Event: UFC 36
Date: March 22, 2002
Result: Hughes by TKO, Rd. 4
Hughes' battle with Hayato Sakurai was a bit of an international incident. Japan's Sakurai was the longtime welterweight champ in the Shooto promotion. About six months before facing Hughes, Sakurai lost the belt to a dude named Anderson Silva.
This was Sakurai's UFC debut, and it didn't go all that well for him. Hughes used that country strength to repeatedly slam and splatter Sakurai across the mat to defend his UFC belt and establish himself as the planet's undisputed best welterweight.
4. Georges St-Pierre
Event: UFC 50
Date: Oct. 22, 2004
Result: Hughes by submission, Rd. 1
Hughes' armbar defeat (and subsequent taunting) of Georges St-Pierre was, ironically, probably the thing that motivated and strengthened GSP to the point where he later defeated Hughes twice and took his title as the greatest welterweight in MMA history.
3. B.J. Penn
Event: UFC 63
Date: Sept. 23, 2006
Result: Hughes by TKO, Rd. 3
Two-and-a-half years before, Hughes lost his belt to B.J. Penn. In this rematch, Hughes ground-and-pounded his way to revenge and a successful title defense.
2. Carlos Newton I
Event: UFC 34
Date: Nov. 2, 2001
Result: Hughes by KO, Rd. 2
Almost 11 years later, this performance remains one of the most jaw-dropping ever in the UFC. Hughes put champ Carlos Newton on his back, but Newton, an outstanding grappler, threw on a triangle choke.
Hughes, quickly losing consciousness, used that fabled strength to hoist Newton into the air and slam him to the mat. Newton was knocked out; Hughes was, at best, in a haze. But he took the win and his first UFC belt.
1. Frank Trigg II
Event: UFC 52
Date: April 16, 2005
Result: Hughes, submission, Rd. 1
Plenty of fans and discussion-board denizens consider this the best fight in UFC history. They're not going to get much resistance from me.
The sequence of events is almost sacrosanct for Hughes fans: Trigg landed a low blow that the ref doesn't see; Hughes pauses, Trigg pounces; Trigg locks on a rear-naked choke and appears to have his revenge in the bag; Hughes lifts Trigg up on his shoulder, carries him across the cage like a sack of beans and slams him to the mat; Hughes locks on a RNC of his own; Trigg doesn't escape.
And that's all she wrote. It was his sixth title defense in the UFC and ended one of the promotion's best rivalries emphatically in the favor of the man who was then, and continues to be, one of the best MMA fighters ever.