It's been a long, long time in the making, but the much anticipated match between former UFC welterweight champions, Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, will finally take place at UFC 98. Some have opined that too much time has passed, and both fighters lack relevance in the welterweight division at this point in time. A small bit of truth exists in this argument. However, our expectations have grown far too lofty if we expect every fight to have significant ramifications for a division or multiple divisions - as in the case of B.J. Penn fighting Georges St. Pierre. Don't get me wrong. Coming to MMA as mainly a fan of team sports, I love trying to put together the pieces in hopes of figuring out where every team or individual fits into a title picture. But much like an old collegiate rivalry (see: Texas A&M/Texas or Michigan/Ohio St.), Hughes vs. Serra has something to offer even if it's not a glimpse at the next welterweight title challenger.
There's little doubt that these two guys skip sending the other a card at Christmas time. Hughes relishes the role of instigator and doesn't seem to mind being a bit of a villain. Conversely, Serra is comfortable expressing his opinions regarding Hughes in quite colorful fashion. It's really unnecessary to go on and on about how a Hughes and Serra bout is almost perfect from a marketing perspective. Legitimate heat generally trumps the manufactured variety.
One other, often overlooked, aspect would be how wonderfully matched these two are in regards to experience, age and size. Granted, Hughes has 39 more professional MMA fights than Serra. Serra, however, has spent much of his time training other martial artists, and his performance in winning TUF, then upsetting GSP for the title, exhibits that his grasp of the fight game is more than solid. Obviously, both are roughly the same age though Serra's far fewer fights likely equals less physical wear and tear than his counterpart.
No question, Matt Hughes has looked a shell of his former self in his most recent fights. He's dropped three of his last four. However, keep in mind that two losses were to GSP; the same GSP who makes every other top welterweight appear pedestrian. Then, there's his last loss to the enormous Thiago Alves - a fight Hughes took on short notice. So, Hughes suffered three defeats at the hands of the #1 and #2 ranked welterweights in the world. Serra, a former lightweight competitor, earned a huge win over GSP before St. Pierre exacted revenge in the form of a dominating stoppage victory. Guys like Alves and GSP cut a ton of weight and possess significant reach advantages over competitors with frames like Hughes and Serra. As we've seen before in many divisions, being physically larger makes for a noteworthy advantage in the world of MMA. In modern MMA, with fighters so evenly matched from the perspective of skill, bouts pitting two similarly sized opponents generally leads to a more competitive showdown than a match where one fighter is significantly outsized.
To make a long story short (like that proverbial ship hasn't already sailed), I'm stoked for this fight. Time is only a number or state of mind or something. Two skilled fighters who are evenly matched from a physical perspective and who, on a personal note, can't stand each other sounds like the ingredients for a potentially awesome bout. Whether it's 2007 or 2009, it matters little to me.
-- photo via www.combatlifestyle.com