Before there was Georges St. Pierre there was Matt Hughes.
A two-time Welterweight champion and the holder of the most wins in UFC history, Hughes was one of the most recognizable fighters in the early days of the UFC. In fact, one could make an argument that outside of the big three in Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, the Hillsboro, Illinois native was the most popular fighter in the organization during the early 2000s.
Now retired and working as the UFC Vice President of Athlete Development and Government Relations, the Hall of Famer has come to terms that he simply cannot compete at the same level he was five years ago.
“The problem is I’m 39 years old and everyone else is 28 to 33 or 24 and it’s hard to keep up with those younger guys,” Hughes said when asked by Ryan Bader on the Power MMA Show on Arizona Sports 620. “The UFC has always treated me good no matter what it was. I’m pretty happy, my wife is pretty happy and I’m retired so it’ll probably stay that way.”
He announced his retirement back in January, on the heels of two consecutive losses by way of knockout at the hands of huge rival B.J. Penn and fellow wrestler Josh Koscheck.
But this chapter of his life is closing and a new one begins now, with Hughes revealing he has taken his new job very seriously as he attempts to help the UFC brand stretch into territories the company had yet to tackle.
“The government relation [position] is very simple. I go to several states, dealing with a lot of state legislature on legalizing MMA,” said Hughes. “The athletic development is very broad and the UFC really wasn’t doing much with athletic development and that can be anything from a fighter’s life before the UFC, a fighter’s life during the UFC and a fighter’s life kind of after the UFC. We deal with finances, families, a little bit of discipline, but I’m definitely not a policeman. So it can be a really broad term that the UFC is just now getting into.”
Hughes later revealed he still has that itch to jump back into the gym and compete. After all, it is all he’s known for the last decade. But he admitted he mostly misses all the fond memories he created with the friends he made throughout his career.
“What I go back to the most is all the good times I had with my buddies,” said Hughes. “When I rolled in and had a fight, I wanted it to be like a practice. So, I brought a bunch of teammates with me and we always had a great time at fight week. We just always had a good time and it is by far what I think about the most.”
When host Jim Grieshaber asked if there was a specific fight that stood out more than the rest, the former NCAA All-American wrestler quickly listed his two favorite moments inside the octagon while admitting the one fight most fans remember isn’t as big a deal as one would expect.
“When you start looking at individual fights obviously Royce [Gracie] was a big one, when I beat B.J. Penn that was a big one, so those are kind of the two big fights for me,” said Hughes. “Of course the Frank Trigg fight, that’s probably the fans’ number-one fight for me because of how the match was lined out and the way the match happened. But to me it’s not a huge fight because I was kind of expected to beat Frank.”
But of course the name Matt Hughes cannot be mentioned in the same breath without bringing up current UFC welterweight champion and PPV king Georges St. Pierre. Hughes is one of only two men to hold a win over GSP, the only person to have more Welterweight title defenses than Hughes.
When asked about that night, almost eight years ago, Hughes credited his manager with persuading him to take on the then young St. Pierre before the Montreal native reached his full potential.
“My manager Monte Cox said, ‘Hey, the GSP is good. Let’s fight him now while he’s still a little young, a little inexperienced,'” said Hughes. “I didn’t know who he was but Monte did so we fought him that time because he really thought he was going to be something down the road.
“When I got a hold of him I could tell he was a very strong guy and I was happy to put that arm bar on him at the end of the first round. I didn’t want to go late in the rounds with him because they said he had a battery in there and I didn’t want to go five rounds with a guy who had that had great gas.”
Hughes will be making an appearance at the UFC Fan Expo on Friday July 5 and Saturday July 6 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. If fight fans wish to attend the event, tickets for are on sale now at www.ufcfanexpo.com.