Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg had plenty of bad blood before both their bouts, but before the second one at UFC 52 on April 16, 2005, they had a little help from UFC television director Anthony Giordano.
“Anthony Giordano would do the interviews back then, and he was very good,” Hughes recalls with a laugh. “He would go to my opponent and talk to them first and would always come back to me and say Frank said this or Joe said that, and he would get some heat out of me. If he interviewed me first, he just didn’t have anything to go off of, so he was smart. And I remember Giordano saying ‘hey, he (Trigg) said the first fight was a fluke and he’s training harder this time, and he’s got a better wrestling pedigree.’ He was bringing stuff out of the blue and I would get heated. I knew when Anthony showed up, I would say ‘keep your cool, keep your cool,’ (Laughs) but he was good. He got under my skin and he got the sound bites he needed.”
So by the time the two welterweights met up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for their rematch, things were a bit heated, and that was actually a good thing for Hughes, because after submitting Trigg via rear naked choke in their first bout at UFC 45 in November of 2003, he didn’t even see the need for a return match.
“To me, rematches only benefit the loser of the first fight,” he said. “I had nothing to win. And (UFC President) Dana (White) called me with it and I said ‘Dana, I don’t want that fight.’ He goes ‘I understand, but that’s all we’ve got right now.’ Okay.”
Hughes, in his second reign as champion, always stepped up when asked, and if it was Trigg that the UFC wanted, that’s what they would get. As for the Rochester, New York native, his sole purpose for being in the Octagon was to get that belt, and after losing to Hughes the first time, the intensity of his desire to get payback grew hotter.
“We were hoping (for a rematch) and I was talking my way into it at the same time,” Trigg said. “Beating (Dennis) Hallman a second time helped a little bit because he already beat Matt twice. Beating (Renato) Verissimo helped because that was a controversial win for Matt. It went to a decision and people really thought that Verissimo had won. And I beat him decisively. So I thought now maybe I’ll get a shot back again. It really was a thing of me kind of talking my way into it and not giving them any other option.”
The fans wanted it too, if only because Trigg had a way of pushing Hughes’ buttons. No one poked at the Hillsboro, Illinois native like “Twinkle Toes,” and even as they received Mario Yamasaki’s pre-fight instructions on fight night, Trigg got close enough to Hughes to prompt the champion to shove him right before the opening bell.
And the crowd went wild. But it wouldn’t be the last time.
After the two battled it out on even terms for a spell to open the bout, Trigg landed with a low knee while locked up with Hughes. Hughes looked for Yamasaki to give a warning, but he only shouted from a distance to watch the knees. Trigg pounced on his stunned foe, sending him to the deck with punches. Hughes was in deep trouble, so deep that Trigg could almost picture the belt going around his waist.
“I thought the belt was mine when I knocked him out, when I smashed him and put him down,” Trigg said. “The fight’s over, it’s relatively easy at this point. He’s down, he’s dropped, the fight’s gotta be over and Mario just didn’t stop it.”
Trigg kept the heat on, eventually taking Hughes’ back. There, he sunk in a rear naked choke, and it was almost going to be a repeat of their first bout, only this time with Trigg the victor.
“So we continue to fight and the choke was in place as an afterthought,” he said. “The choke was never in. My elbow was in the wrong position, and even though I had it locked up, it really wasn’t in. At that point I’m still in disbelief that the fight’s not already over. I should be celebrating at this point, and now I’m still in a fight.”
Seconds later, Hughes broke free, and as the crowd erupted, one of the great sequences in MMA history took place, as Hughes picked Trigg up and marched him across the Octagon before slamming him. If the crowd was loud before, now they produced a deafening roar.
“There’s only one clip that I enjoy watching,” Hughes said. “When I pick Frank up and run him across the Octagon, before that moment, my corner would have thought that I was out, that they were going to come into the Octagon and I wasn’t going to get my hand raised. I’ve been that cornerman, so I knew exactly what was going through their mind. And I’m a Christian, so I don’t like to use a lot of terms, but I like to use the word resurrection because I was out, done, and should have been the loser that night. But I picked him up and ran across the ring, and I love watching my four cornermen jump out of their seat. If I was the cornerman, I would have been so excited that one of my brothers is back in the game. That’s the only clip I care to watch of all my fights and I don’t even watch me. I watch my four cornermen. That gets me excited.”
Once Hughes got Trigg on the mat, it was game over, as he worked some ground strikes, opened a cut and then sunk in a rear naked choke that produced a tap at the 4:05 mark of the first round. To this day, you can get chills watching the fight, even though you know the ending, so it was no surprise when it was the first bout put into the fight wing of the UFC Hall of Fame. Well, maybe it was a surprise to Trigg.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Trigg, 43, said. “It was really out of the blue. So when I got the call, I actually had to ask them to repeat themselves a couple different times. I wasn’t analyzing what they were actually saying.”
What they were saying was that Trigg and Hughes had produced a moment in time that deserves to be commemorated with a spot in the Hall of Fame. And though Trigg was on the losing end of the fight, just having his place with the greats of the UFC is enough to soothe that defeat.
“It is a weird thing,” he said. “When I fought in Shooto, my first loss ever in MMA was to Hayato Sakurai, and for Shooto it was voted the best fight of the year. In junior college I was undefeated going all the way into the national tournament finals and I lose in the finals 4-2 and I get Sportsmanship of the Year, which is like the best number two guy in the country. And this is my third time getting an accolade for losing something. And I always dreamed of being in the UFC Hall of Fame and I never thought it would ever happen, so I kind of let it go. And yes, it’s a fight that I lost, but it’s the UFC Hall of Fame. Every time they announce me as a referee, they have to say UFC Hall of Famer Frank Trigg. It’s on my stunt resume, my acting resume, it’s almost like being knighted in the MMA community.”
As for Hughes, 41, already inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2010, it’s something to remind him of a special time in the history of the sport.
“You look back on it and you’re just glad you’re a part of that time period,” he said.