A Country Boy Can Survive: What's Next For Matt Hughes?

Elton HobsonCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2010

Guess that Hank Williams Jr. was onto something, after all.

For a fighter supposedly facing the tail end of his career, UFC hall of famer and multiple time welterweight champion, Matt Hughes, has been opening a lot of eyes lately.

Or reopening, as the case seems to be.

Only a short while ago, the Illinois native was all but written off in the division he single-handedly put on the map. After Hughes was decisively knocked off his championship perch by Georges St. Pierre, his days as an elite level welterweight seemed to be over. After his KO loss to Thiago Alves a short while later, there were calls for his retirement. From king of the world to on the way out, all in the span of a year.

Sure, Hughes isin't that old per se. Most people don't start collecting their pension at age thirty-six, after all. Instead, it was his" ring age" that seemed to finally have caught up to the former champion.

With forty nine professional fights to his name over a twelve year career, there's no doubt Hughes has some significant mileage on him. Combined with a sport that seemed to have evolved past Hughes, and it looked like the cowboy of the welterweight division was finally going to have to ride off into the sunset.

Luckily, no one told Matt Hughes. This past Saturday at UFC 117, he faced tough contender Ricardo Almeida in what was supposed to be a "passing of the torch" fight. Instead, Hughes completely blew Almeida out of the water, choking the 2nd degree BJJ blackbelt out in a little over three minutes time.

With that fight, Hughes makes it three victories in a row, and sends a statement to the rest of the division that the old horse isin't about to be dragged out behind the barn just yet.

Hughes has said that he plans to take the remainder of 2010 off, and return to finish the remainder of his contract next year. Here are the most interesting and attractive options for the farmboy for his "Farewell Tour 2011".

Rematch with Matt Serra

These two first met at UFC 98 in May of last year, in what was supposed to be the blow off match in their heated rivalry. Hughes edged Serra in a razor close split decision that night (I actually scored the fight for Serra) and since then "The Terra" hasn't been shy about his desire for another crack at his arch-rival.

Serra is scheduled to face Chris Lytle at UFC 119 in September. A win in that fight would give him all the momentum—not to mention microphone time—the Long Island native would need to call out Hughes again. The only problem is that Hughes really doesn't stand to gain anything from another go-round with Serra.

With only a few fights left in his career, does he really want to spend them rematching guys he's already beaten?

There's also the "American Gracie Hunter" tag Hughes has been branded with as of late, with crushing stoppage victories over Royce and Renzo Gracie, as well as noted Gracie students Serra and Almeida. Continuing down that road could offer Hughes some fun fights, but he may not be willing to ride out his career in an imagined feud with MMA's first family.

Rubber Match with Dennis Hallman

Dennis who?

If that was your reaction upon reading this, I don't blame you. Dennis "Superman" Hallman is a 13-year veteran of the sport who has fought all over the world, from Shooto in Japan, to MFC in Canada, to King of the Cage and the IFL in the U.S. He is currently two fights into his third stint in the UFC. He has an impressive record of 58 professional fights, with 42 wins.

He also holds two submission victories over Matt Hughes, in a combined 38 seconds. Aside from GSP, he is the only fighter to have beaten Hughes on two separate occasions.

So the narrative for this fight writes itself, with an obvious hook: can Hughes finally get one up on the man who has won a fluke submission victory on him twice?

Hallman is 1-1 in his current stint with the UFC, but he's coming off a win over Ben Saunders and this fight could be his last chance at the "big time" fight he's been waiting for his whole career.

Except that, like the Matt Serra fight above, this fight really does nothing for Hughes's career or legacy. He has plainly stated in the past that the Hallman losses don't eat at him in any way, having happened a decade ago—an eternity in the fight business. In order to sell this fight, the UFC would have to make smoke where there really isn't a fire.

The best way I could see this working is to put the fight on in Chicago—the closest thing to Matt Hughes's hometown. Sell the revenge angle, try to get Hallman over with casual fans, and hope to hell he doesn't make it 3-0 and totally put Hughes's last minute resurgence into a hole.

Fight one of the AKA Trinity

For months, the American Kickboxing Academy trio of Jon Fitch/Josh Koscheck/
Mike Swick have been calling Matt Hughes out in the MMA media. And for
months, Hughes has pretty much ignored those call outs.

If Matt really wants to make a title run in the last act of his career, he's going to
need to answer the ringing phone this time when Bob Cook comes calling. With Koscheck tied up in "The Ultimate Fighter 12" and a title shot with GSP, and Fitch trying to secure a world title match of his own, that pretty much leaves Mike "Quick" Swick as the only remaining candidate of the San Jose based fight camp left to challenge Hughes.

A fight against Swick would be a dangerous one for Hughes; Swick has the length and base to frustrate Matt's wrestling, and the speed, power, and technical striking acumen to give him problems on the feet. This fight would probably come off as a "stepping stone" fight for Swick. But the same was also true for Ricardo Almeida, and look how that turned out.

If the UFC is looking for a fight to test Hughes, to see if he still has "it", then
this is the fight they need to make. A loss won't really hurt Hughes's legacy
at this point, and a win could actually vault him back into title contention.

Everything Else (The Really Unlikely Ones)

Fourth Fight with GSP: Hughes actually holds a victory over GSP, giving him a shred of a reason to ask for this fight. Unfortunately for Hughes, it was back when no one was watching. In their second fight, he was outclassed by the Canadian's striking. In the rubber match, he was outclassed by his grappling. That doesn't give one a whole lot of hope that he'll have anything for Georges the fourth go-round.

Rubber Match with BJ Penn: Man, I would love to see this fight. Really, really badly. Their first two encounters—split evenly—are two of the most exciting welterweight title fights in UFC history, and there is unfinished business in their feud without a doubt.

I could see this fight getting put on at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, in front of a packed house of 50,000 screaming Penn fans. It would be epic. Unfortunately, with Penn tied up at 155 for the forseeable future, the timing of this fight just doesn't seem likely.

Rickson Gracie:
If Hughes wants to cement his "Gracie Hunter" image, he needs to go after the big dog. Sure, Rickson is 51 years old and hasn't had an MMA fight in over a decade. But what the hell - we're already in fantasy land by now, might as well enjoy it.


By Elton Hobson