Matt Hughes is one of my favorite fighters of all time. He had everything you could like in a fighter. He finished people; he was humble; and he never relied on his strength to win fights. Above all of that, he is a kind human being that has helped many fighters as both a coach and as Vice President of Athlete Development and Government relations in the UFC. His inspiring comeback this past weekend was nothing short of miraculous so I will take this time to list the ten best Matt Hughes moments in his legendary UFC career. Will limit this to only his time in the UFC.
In what would be Matt Hughes’ first fight as a Hall of Famer would also be his last win inside the octagon. It was an impressive win on top of it. Ricardo Almeida was the younger of the two and was an excellent submission specialist due to his lineage. The two started off with very little action on the feet as both were throwing conservatively and Almeida only stuffing a few of Hughes’ takedown attempts. However, out of nowhere Hughes lands a perfect lead left hook that hurt Almeida which Hughes then capitalized on by locking up a front headlock on his opponent. This gave Almeida his first submission loss to one of the all-time greats.
#9. His Retirement
Matt Hughes’ retirement was bitter-sweet. On one hand he was given the opportunity to become Vice President of Athlete Development and Government relations in the UFC but on the other hand it meant we would never see Hughes fight again. This short press conference moment started with Dana White giving an emotional speech about his trust and friendship with Matt Hughes and then ended with Hughes giving thanks and accepting his new position that would allow him to stay with the UFC.
#8. The Ultimate Fighter
Not every moment on this list is going to be great as fighters tend to have ups and downs in their careers. Hughes coaching on The Ultimate Fighter was questionable as only two of his eight fighters won the opening round. And though those two were able to make it to the finals of the whole thing, you can bet his constant push of Christianity on his fighters didn’t sit well with many viewers at home (or his rival coach on the show, Matt Serra). When the two finally faced off at UFC 98, Serra was able to knockdown his opponent in the opening round (with help from an unintentional headbutt). Hughes, however, was able to survive and use his wrestling to dominate the rest of the fight and score the unanimous decision victory over his rival.
#7. His Hall of Fame Induction
Being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame is one of the greatest honors a MMA fighter can obtain. Matt Hughes’ induction was special, especially since he was still a competitor in the UFC. He gave an amazing speech and remained humble like he has done throughout his entire career:
I never thought about this, to be honest – I’m just a Midwest guy kinda living the dream. But I’m very privileged and I thank the UFC. Shaking hands, signing autographs, being a world title holder and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, this is beyond what I ever would have pictured my life being.”
At the time, this fight was the biggest super fight the UFC had produced. Two legends in their own eras battling out with nothing on the line except bragging rights. In the fight, Matt Hughes was able to take Royce Gracie down using his strength and wrestling skills. Gracie tried to get something going for him but was completely overwhelmed by Hughes who was able to mount his back and rain punches for the victory.
#5. His return
This was an emotional moment in UFC history as Matt Hughes was able to return home after a train collided with his truck in a scary incident that left many wondering whether he’d come out ok. But a ‘Country Boy Can Survive’ as Hughes walked down to the octagon with claps and cheers from everyone in attendance (including Dana White) and millions of viewers around the world. He even wore a shirt of his teammate’s name, Robbie Lawler.
#4. His fights with BJ Penn
This is widely regarded as one of the best trilogy fights ever. The first fight with BJ Penn saw Penn upsetting Matt Hughes by submitting him in the very first round to win the UFC Welterweight Championship. Hughes would then come back with a vengeance as he was able to TKO Penn in the third round after a back-and-forth battle. In the third bout, Penn would win the rubber match by taking out Hughes with punches in just 21 seconds! Hughes may not have won the trilogy, but he gave it his all and made all fights as entertaining as possible.
Another trilogy that Hughes did not win was also a memorable part of Matt Hughes career. In the first fight, Georges St-Pierre pushed the pace to capture the gold but was submitted by Hughes in the final second of the first round. GSP shot back by knocking out Hughes in their rematch and capturing the title from Hughes. Finally they had one more title fight which saw GSP turning the table on Hughes by submitting him with an armbar. Each one could be considered a super fight and were instant classics of Matt Hughes collection of fights. And just like his fight with BJ Penn, Hughes showed great heart and will in all three bouts.
#2. His first UFC title win (against Carlos Newton)
Possibly the most famous slam knockout in UFC history belongs to Matt Hughes when he faced off against then Welterweight Champion Carlos Newton. In the second round of this title fight, Hughes was able to take Newton to the mat with a well executed takedown. He soon found himself locked up in a triangle choke that looked to be on tight. Hughes, being as crafty as he was, lifted Newton up (almost as if to do a WWE powerbomb) and brought him towards the cage. Soon after Hughes sent Newton crashing down to the mat which knocked him out clean. Initially Hughes had no idea he had just one. It will forever go down as one of the craziest and astounding knockouts in UFC history
#1. His first fight with Frank Trigg
In what is considered by many to be the greatest fights of all time, Matt Hughes defended his title against heated rival, Frank Trigg. The two combatants were locked up on the cage when Trigg hit Hughes with an unintentional low blow. Hughes, visibly hurt, attempted to stumble away but was chased by a barrage of strikes by Frank Trigg and nearly finished. Trigg secured a rear naked choke that appeared to be the end for Hughes, but to everyone’s surprise, turned into it and was able to reverse position. He then proceeded to do his iconic carry of Trigg from one end of the octagon to the other and then slamming him to the mat. Finally, in ironic fashion, Hughes secured a rear naked choke of his own that finished off the hungry challenger. Hughes’ career had many memorable moments, but this was a moment that would stand the test of time in his truly historic career.