by: Jack Bratcher
Matt Hughes was one of the main reasons I got interested in MMA again after the “lean years.” He was dominating everyone in the welterweight division and it wasn’t hard to appreciate his skill level and the often brutal way he would finish fights from the big slams to the vicious ground and pound. But somewhere along the line he got old. I would say it’s the natural progression of things for the new breed to come in and pass you by but an athlete such as Randy Couture blows notions like that out of the water. So what is it? What’s holding Matt Hughes back from getting to that next level. He’s reached this plataeu that he can’t seem to cross. Is he bored? Should he be a preacher? Should he just be a farmer? Should he have stayed with the Miletich camp with the people who helped him become the dominant Welterweight Champion that he was?
Hughes just lost another fight in devastating fashion, this time to the Welterweight upstart Thiago Alves at UFC 85: Bedlam in London, England. As soon as Matt Hughes’ seemingly one-dimensional game plan of taking his opponent down ala ground n’ pound didn’t work Hughes seemed lost and most could tell it wasn’t going to end pretty for the Illinois native.
Hughes really hasn’t looked the same since UFC 65 in 2006 when he lost his title to George St. Pierre by TKO early in round two. He did come back in March of 2007 where he beat Chris Lytle by unanimous decision. What makes this surprising is that the “old” Matt Hughes would have never gone to a decision with Chris Lytle. I mean no disrespect to Lytle, but as far as I know and can tell by the research I’ve done; I don’t think Lytle was in anyone’s top ten. In fact, he was coming in to that fight off a loss himself with Matt Serra; so I don’t consider Matt Hughes’ decision win over Lytle as anything too impressive and that fight was far from a blockbuster.
Kevin Iole over at Yahoo, recently published an article saying it is time for Matt Hughes to retire. While I can relate to what Iole is saying, it’s difficult for me to tell a person to give up something if they truly love it. If Matt still feels that thrill of cmpetition; if he still has that drive to compete and win then I don’t think it’s our place to ask him to retire. However, something is missing in Matt’s mixed martial arts game.
I will use Matt’s old nemesis, Frank Trigg, as an example. During Matt’s heydey when he was cleaning house, kicking ass and taking names he beat Trigg twice, the last time being in 2005. Since that time Trigg and Hughes have taken different paths. Hughes broke off from his long time mentor and trainer Pat Miletich and opened up his own gym called Hit Squad where he himself is in charge. As far as I know, there’s really no one at that gym who is gonna kick Matt’s ass on a daily basis; no one who can really push him, tell him what to do and he can learn from. On the other hand, we have Frank Trigg, who since his loss to Hughes and GSP went out and sought the help he needed. He humbled himself and went in search of training and ended up at what may be the best training facility in the world at Xtreme Couture’s in Las Vegas. The training partners he has to work with there are nothing less than legendary not even counting the big man himself, Randy Couture, who was in Trigg’s corner in his last fight. Both Hughes and Trigg are long-time, old school veterans; but we can see Trigg’s game improving noticeably even at this stage of his career. Matt Hughes is only 34. I believe the man could have quite a few years left in the sport if he really wants it but he’s gonna have to make some changes. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome. There was a time in days past when Trigg could have learned a few things from Hughes; but in 2008 I think Matt could benefit by taking a cue from his old rival “Twinkle Toes.”