OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 07: Matt Hughes chokes Ricardo Almeida during the UFC Welterweight bout at Oracle Arena on August 7 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
UFC 135 saw an aging Matt Hughes manage to briefly win the stand-up against the younger Josh Koscheck before getting hurt and eventually knocked out. It isn't a new moment for UFC fans to see Hughes finished by a younger foe, but there was a certain sense of finality involved this time. The talk of Hughes retiring was louder than ever and many fans expected him to hang up the gloves win or lose.
It didn't play out that well as Hughes said he wasn't retiring, but rather was asking for the UFC to "put him on the shelf" for a while.
Still, as an old fan, I'm left wondering just how quickly the legend of Hughes will be forgotten. Often forgotten in all the talk of Jones, Rampage and GSP being "near unbeatable" at this point in their careers, that was the way we used to speak of Matt. Too powerful, wrestling too good and ever improving in other aspects of his game. And all that without being a guy who trained full time for his fights.
It must be especially vexing for Hughes, whose five-defense reign as champion was as intimidating and destructive as any that preceded it. During those salad days, Hughes was known for training minimally for bouts, showing up to get in, at most, a short camp prior to walking into the Octagon to his signature entrance music and crushing challengers. My favorite Hughes-is-AWOL story while champion was his title defense against Sean Sherk at UFC 42 in 2003, when the unbeaten challenger was preparing like a maniac. It was originally told to me by Monte Cox and is worthy of recounting here.
With two weeks left before his defense, nobody could find Hughes. Finally, he showed up to train at the Miletich Fighting Systems camp, with an exasperated Cox asking him where he had been.
"I had to help my brother put a new roof on," replied Hughes. With that, he went out to decision an inspired but ultimately overmatched Sherk in five hard-charging rounds. That was the quintessential Hughes, who always maintained that farming was harder than training; his dominance was even more impressive because it was well-known that he barely prepared for fights.
It may seem like some sort of lack of dedication worthy of being punished in today's fight game. But it didn't matter then, Huges was that much better than the men he faced.
That version of Hughes, not the one left prone on the canvas, will be the one many of us remember.