In the co-main event of the evening at UFC 135 on Saturday in Denver, Colorado, UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes (45-8) will attempt to buy himself a little more time before retirement as he battles former UFC welterweight title contender Josh Koscheck (15-5). Hughes was originally expected to fight The Ultimate Fighter season one winner Diego Sanchez, but a broken hand forced Sanchez out of the match-up. Koscheck took the fight on nineteen days notice.
Hughes enters the contest following a crushing knockout loss to B.J. Penn at UFC 123 in November. He had previously rattled off three straight wins, edging Matt Serra on the scorecards at UFC 98, finishing Renzo Gracie at UFC 112, and submitting Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117. The wins were nowhere near the relevance of his past dominance at the top of the division, but they diminished any notion that he was finished in the sport.
Penn's twenty-one second slaying of the legend was a rude awakening however. The 37-year-old Hughes may not be finished in the sport yet, but it's going to take a miraculous feat for him to regain his former glory. Josh Koscheck stands in his way, and he's a tall task considering the fact that he was vying for the UFC welterweight title only nine months ago. If Hughes can somehow get past Koscheck, it could go a long way to making a miracle happen.
Realistically, it's hard to imagine Hughes running through Koscheck, beating another elite level welterweight, and then giving Georges St. Pierre a run for his money. In fact, it seems impossible at this late stage of his career. Furthermore, Koscheck, even on short notice, is a very dangerous opponent for Hughes. He has better wrestling on paper, superior striking, more power, and he's younger.
There is some concern surrounding Koscheck's mentality in regards to the eye injury he suffered against Georges St. Pierre. If he overprotects the eye, it could leave openings for Hughes to take advantage of. I don't think that will be a factor, however, as Koscheck has stated he's been training for months without a hitch.
Hughes will need to power through Koscheck's defenses and take him down to win this fight. His striking has never been great, and Koscheck has improved considerably in the stand-up department in the latter part of his career. That limits where Hughes can be effective. Vintage Matt Hughes will need to show up on Saturday night.
I'm not convinced that the Hughes of old can show up though. Koscheck can win this on the feet, and take his chances against a below average puncher like Hughes while maintaining his legs. I think that's the easiest and least dangerous way for Koscheck to take home a large paycheck, and I think Koscheck knows it. Koscheck batters Hughes on the feet on his way to a decision victory on Saturday at UFC 135.