UFC's Matt Hughes: Looking Back at His Legacy
Matt Hughes is as legacy as legacy gets.
The former two-time world champion first came into mixed martial arts infamy when he defeated then champion Carlos Newton with a knockout, staving off a triangle choke finish by hoisting the savvy Canadian well over the Octagon wall and slamming him to the canvas.
10 years ago, Hughes began his road towards welterweight mayhem, where he ruled the division with an iron fist, with a stretch of impressive title defenses that have since been unrivaled.
After his bout with Newton, Hughes took on Japanese sensation Hayato Sakurai, who was coveted at one point as the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, after having gone on a 20-fight unbeaten stretch to begin his career. The collegiate wrestling Division I All American in Hughes dispatched of "Mach" with fourth-round strikes, where his legend was just beginning to cultivate.
A subsequent battle with Sakurai and subsequent rematch with Newton ensued, where Hughes this time vindicated the controversy surrounding their first battle by deftly dominating the former titleholder, wearing down the grappling ace with a third-round TKO finish.
After making successful title defenses in five outings, Hughes took on the not-so-daunting challenge of facing perennial lightweight contender BJ Penn, who was fresh off of a draw against Caol Uno. The 155-pound division was on its way out the door of the UFC, though the organization took it upon itself to keep around the manic Hawaiian.
Penn upset Hughes with a first-round submission finish, which ignited an epic trilogy between the duo.After a falling out with the organization, "The Prodigy" ultimately signed with the rival K-1 promotion, having him stripped of his 170-pound title. After Hughes was back on the mend with an impressive decision victory over BJ Penn training partner Renato "Charuto" Verissimo, the Illinois native met with top prospect Georges St-Pierre at UFC 50.
The Canadian showed much promise, taking it to Hughes early with an impressive array of strikes and equally impressive takedown defense, though the seasoned veteran eventually cinched up a fight-ending armbar, which came with just one second remaining in the first, helping Hughes reclaim the welterweight title in the process.
A second battle with Frank Trigg ensued during which Hughes defeated the fellow accomplished amateur wrestler with another impressive rear-naked choke finish, which later opened the door to battles with Joe Riggs and Royce Gracie—both of whom failed to make it to the second round opposite of Hughes.
Those battles opened the door to an inevitable rematch with Penn in what became arguably one of the most highly anticipated battles in the welterweight division.
Hughes exacted his revenge, taking advantage of a fatigued Penn in the later stages of the bout, finishing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with a mounted crucifix, landing many unanswered punches to the face, which eventually called a halt to the bout in the third round.
Since then, his career has seen a resurgence followed by a downswing, after having lost his title to the talented GSP in an eventual rematch which took place just two months after his memorable battle with Penn.
The victory over the Hawaiian was followed by a career-worst run, going 4-5 inside the Octagon. His battles as of late may have tainted some fans to believe that Hughes has lost his edge, which is very well true.
But one thing should never waver, and that's the legacy and stature that Hughes has created for himself.
He's the reason why St-Pierre is St-Pierre, why Penn is Penn. Hughes has provided the sort of measuring stick that other athletes should expect to meet and exceed in the world of MMA.
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