UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes has beaten Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie in back-to-back bouts. Will he complete this trifecta of wins over Jiu-Jitsu black belts by taking out Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117?
After 12 years in the fight game that included two championship reigns and 11 title fights, you would think that Matt Hughes would have seen it all by the time fight number 52 against Renzo Gracie rolled around in April.
But midway through the bout, Hughes had a feeling that had never hit him in the midst of a fight – he was actually having fun.
“I don’t know if the pressure was off, or maybe it was just that a lot of things were going my way, but it was just one of those fights where some of the time I really wanted to hurt my opponent and some of the time out there it seemed like I had a smile on my face,” said Hughes of the UFC 112 bout, which he won via third round TKO. “I was really just able to enjoy that fight for some reason and quite possibly it could be that halfway through the second round, I knew that I was dominating the fight.”
It was a new twist for a man who admits that he has “always been very relentless until the ref stopped me or I ran out of time,” yet while enjoying himself and spoiling Gracie’s long-awaited UFC debut, he also found time to show off some debilitating leg kicks and a finishing standup sequence that saw him deliver pinpoint shots down the middle that finished Gracie off.
“I do work a lot with my striking coach, Matt Pena, and he talked about that last sequence of punches and he really enjoyed it because he said I did well,” he said. “I am that old dog, but I’m still able to learn and that’s one of the fun things about this sport. I enjoy learning and picking up new stuff, and that’s why I’m doing it. There’s so much out there to learn, and the guy that doesn’t think he’s got anything to learn is the guy that’s gonna be in trouble.”
And if Hughes, at 36, is in trouble in the welterweight shark tank, he certainly isn’t showing it after his back-to-back wins over Gracie and Matt Serra. In fact, Hughes hasn’t lost in over two years, and since his defeat to Thiago Alves in 2008, he has remained relevant in one of the sport’s toughest divisions. But despite this, and his recent UFC Hall of Fame induction, some believe he will meet his Waterloo this Saturday in his UFC 117 bout against Gracie protégé Ricardo Almeida. Not surprisingly, Hughes doesn’t let it bother him, and when it comes down to it, he wants to make an example of anyone who requests a fight with him.
“When I started fighting for the championship, I was always the underdog and I really liked that,” he said. “Later on, it turned out being different and I didn’t like that. But somebody just told me the other day that they’ve got Almeida ahead in the polls, so I like that. It’s a lot easier going in there being the underdog with nobody expecting you to win. It is a little pressure because I’ve had the belt, and because they put me in the Hall of Fame, and I know this guy’s coming at me because I beat his two coaches and I don’t want to lose to a guy who wants to fight me because I beat his two coaches. Another thing is, he’s asked for this fight pretty bad and in my mind I want to put him down hard because I don’t want people asking to fight Matt Hughes left and right. That’s just my personal feeling.”
Not that the fight has any personal animosity attached to it. Hughes and Almeida have been complimentary of each other leading up to the bout, and Almeida has been vocal in insisting that revenge for Renzo and Royce Gracie, as well as fellow Renzo black belt Matt Serra isn’t his main motivator. It isn’t even that Hughes defeated Almeida in a submission wrestling match in Abu Dhabi years ago. But the “Big Dog” knows that a win over Hughes propels him to the next level at 170 pounds, and that’s motivation enough. Hughes knows this and is preparing accordingly.
“I think he’s gonna be aggressive in getting his takedowns,” said Hughes of Almeida. “I think he’s gonna try to wear me out, and I think he wants to be on top of me. I don’t think he wants to stand with me or be underneath me, so I’ve been working on stopping takedowns, my standup as always, and my ground game – whether it be on top or if I happen to get caught underneath him.”
But the question has to be asked – after victories over the aforementioned Gracies and Serra, as well as other jiu-jitsu standouts like BJ Penn, Renato Verissimo, and Carlos Newton, has he developed the kryptonite to defeat BJJ supermen?
“I think it’s just one of those things,” he said. “I think my style does work good because I’m the wrestler and I can control so much, as opposed to a jiu-jitsu guy, who’s all about technique. My power has a big play in it as well, so I think my style fits well with a jiu-jitsu guy, but for the most part, it’s just been good matchups for me.”
And though it’s always nice to have fun on the job, Hughes insists that this time, the only smiles will come after the bout is over.
“I haven’t been worrying about trying to have a fun fight,” he said. “I want to be more dominant in there and I don’t want to go in there thinking I want to have a fun fight and then somebody outhustles me because I’m trying to enjoy the moment. I’ve trained to go in there and hurt my opponent, just like he’s training to do that to me.”