What would the Welterweight landscape look like without Matt Hughes?
I mean, look at the resume:
A win over Georges St-Pierre, a win over Matt Serra, one of the most famous KO victories in the sport at Carlos Newton's expense, five (count 'em, FIVE) successful defenses of the UFC Welterweight title in only his first reign as the champ, two UFC wins that came at the expense of two Gracie Family members, and... a Technical Submission win over a Renzo Gracie pupil that won FIGHT OF THE NIGHT?
Count the win that nabbed him his second UFC Welterweight title reign and the win that handed his all-too-familiar foe at UFC 123 (some dude named BJ Penn, who is widely considered to be the greatest Lightweight in the sport) his first and only loss by strikes, and you might bump that up about six or seven title victories.
How did he do it?
I give you his 10-step program to becoming the greatest damn Welterweight that this sport recognizes.
- The win over Sakurai
- The two losses to GSP
- The UFC 112 win over Renzo Gracie
- The Dave Schultz Front Headlock on Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117 (simply known as the "Dave Schultz Choke")
- The first fight with Frank Trigg
- The fight with Sean Sherk
- Any other fight or event you don't see on this list that was nonetheless important to Hughes' career
Every great has to start somewhere.
Hughes' start came against a man named Erick Snyder at Jeet Kune Do Challenge 2 in a fight that Hughes ended in 15 seconds by way of a slam.
What a way to start off your career, eh?
At the time, Hughes was 16-1 in his MMA career, but because the UFC wasn't the exact same company as it is now and didn't necessarily have fighters signed to a contract, Hughes was able to take a few fights outside of the UFC.
Before he got the call to come back to the UFC, he faced a man named Shawn Peters.
Watch the fight to see what Hughes walked into his next UFC fight with.
GSP even admits to this day that he came off as cocky against Matt Serra, and I'm thinking he's likely to tell you the same thing about his first fight at UFC 50 with Matt Hughes.
Hughes was looking to win the belt he originally lost to BJ Penn, and GSP wanted to break the hold Matt Hughes was looking to once again on the Welterweight throne.
Hughes would be the one snapping a streak, as he became blemish numero uno on the record of the French-Canadian, winning his second Welterweight title in the process with an armbar at the near end of the first round.
You know what the significance of this picture of BJ Penn choking out Kenny Florian is?
It symbolizes the dominance of BJ Penn in the Lightweight Division ever since he won the belt.
You know what the irony of this picture of BJ Penn choking out Kenny Florian is?
Replace Florian with the image of Matt Hughes, and you have exactly what happened when Hughes and Penn (adversaries at UFC 123) first faced off at UFC 46.
Hughes was a great 170-pound champ, but in four minutes and 39 seconds, The Prodigy proved to be the better fighter.
Chuck Liddell's second encounter with Randy Couture.
Actually, Dana White's favorite fight was on this card, and believe it or not, it wasn't the Couture-Liddell rematch.
It was actually this fight, one of the best fights in the UFC and one of the most entertaining bouts in the sport.
Hughes and Trigg had two encounters, and this second one came sometime after Hughes had beaten GSP for the belt.
After about four minutes of action, Hughes ended the second fight with Trigg just as he ended the first fight:
One rear naked choke that had Twinkle Toes singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."
Remember the rear naked choke that ended the five-fight streak of Matt Hughes?
Well, as fate would have it, "Baby" Jay Dee and Sir Matthew of Hillsboro would cross paths once more at UFC 63 in the most recent entry of what will turn into a trilogy come this Saturday.
This time, the fight would go past the first two rounds, and of course in that third, Hughes would trap BJ in the Salaverry Position (aka "The Crucifix") and tee off on BJ's face and chin.
BJ took the best shots Hughes could dish out but there was little he could do to defend the strikes, prompting the ref to step in. Thereby, he avenged the loss that cost Matt Hughes an unprecedented sixth straight successful title defense.
Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra.
What do you say about this one?
The two fighters hated each other long before UFC 98 ever rolled around, and they traded quite the verbage.
Even though Hughes was coming off of a stunning loss to Thiago Alves, he still warned that "Matt Serra better come up with a game plan fast."
That game plan showed for one round on the judges' scorecards in a fight that most would like to say Hughes actually lost, but it was one hell of a way to settle the score.
Most of you know about UFC 60, the Matt Hughes-Royce Gracie encounter and how it worked out.
Hughes proved that a lot had changed since the days of the tournament format, and that one style wasn't enough to get a win anymore.
You had to do more than grapple: you had to have takedown ability, you had to defend takedowns and submissions, you had to be able to take a punch and give a punch.
Never question Royce Gracie's legacy or what he did for the sport, but the man was the same fighter he was in the early days of the UFC.
The difference? He now wore shorts instead of a gi, he wore gloves, and he was in a Catchweight bout against the UFC Welterweight Champ rather than being in a bout against a guy at a ridiculous weight.
Gracie will always be the man who helped put MMA on the map as a legitimate sport, but as a fighter, Hughes was better that night.
If this slam hadn't happened, there would never have been a five-fight-long title reign from Hughes, and heaven only knows if any of Hughes' high-profile career fights would have still happened even without him holding the belt.
Hughes admitted that he was actually the one that was out, but there had to be a winner and Newton got himself knocked out when Hughes dropped to the floor, so Big John McCarthy stepped in and called it as a Matt Hughes knockout.
Whether he knew Hughes was out or not, I don't know, but Newton sure wasn't the one that left with the Welterweight Belt.
If you're referred to as "The Greatest" of something in the UFC, chances are you're going to wind up in the UFC Hall of Fame, and why not?
Some things you can't have without a little something else.
A UFC Hall of Fame that didn't see Matt Hughes is one of those things.
I mean, FIVE successful defenses in one single title reign?
Only Tito Ortiz has done that, and Chuck Liddell came close but he couldn't get that at the expense of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Hell, Randy Couture couldn't even get five successful defenses in the five title reigns he had.
The only one to beat out Hughes's Welterweight reign is Anderson Silva's current UFC Middleweight title reign.
Still, you don't see a Hall of Fame trophy anywhere inside the Black House gym, now do ya?
That's right, you don't, and it'll be a bit before you do.
Till then, let's soak in the image of Hughes and his trophy -- a symbolic image of one definite in the history of the UFC:
Matt Hughes is the greatest Country Boy to have survived in MMA... okay, well aside from Don Frye.