I remember the first time ever watching Matt Hughes fight: it was at UFC 34 against Carlos Newton on DVD. I remember seeing him and thinking this guy is just powerful. He seemed to just embody physical strength.
When he picked up Carlos Newton and carried him to the cage, I was in utter dismay. I could not believe that Matt was lifting up a man that was the same weight as himself while getting choked. Then with a mighty slam, he knocks out Carlos Newton to win the title.
I made sure to watch all of his fights on DVD, and that same feeling of strength seemed to flow from him as he paced back and forth before the fight. He was always a great wrestler, but he seemed to just be able to completely dominate his opponent to the ground. When he fought guys like Riggs and Verissimo, he was like a wall that was able to use brilliant take downs to muscle his opponent to the ground. Matt was also an extremely gifted ground and pound fighter. Getting men like BJ completely pinned on the ground to deliver vicious blows to the head, especially the elbows.
Matt always had seemed to have this internal drive to win that most would call the "Heart of a champion", Like when he was fighting Trigg for the second time at UFC 52. Even after being put into a rear naked choke, Matt still came back to pick Trigg up and slam him into the mat for a win.
After his second fight with Trigg, his dominance seemed to fade away. He was still winning, but he no longer seemed to overpower his opponents. His winning was more from his great wrestling skills than his strength.
At this point he had more going on with his life, such as a new family, coaching both on the ultimate fighter (twice) and at his new gym. I felt that he was now putting these things above his fights in his priority list.
His strength just seemed to be ebbing away from him, and it seemed he lost the one thing that made him great when he fought GSP for the third time in UFC 79, where he was completely dominated, not just in wrestling skill, but in physical strength too.
UFC 85 will be very interesting to see. I feel that Hughes could win agianst Alves as long as he has re-focused himself. He didnt look like he had been training as hard as usual against GSP in his 3rd fight, and I feel that if he busted his tail like he used too, he will dominate Alves.
Is Matt Hughes truly losing his edge and in need of retirement, or will UFC 85 be the rebirth of the most dominate welterweight fighter the UFC has ever had?
I personally want to see the old Matt Hughes come back. The Matt Hughes that bulldozed through the competition with one giant tackle after another. The Matt Hughes who was my MMA hero.