News emerged last week that Matt Hughes wishes to return to MMA at the age of 43, having not fought since September 2011 in a knockout loss to Josh Koscheck.
Hughes has been out of work since being relieved of his position as UFC vice president of athlete development and government relations by the promotion’s new owners WME|IMG, as part of company-wide layoffs.
Earlier in March, Hughes appeared on a pre-taped episode of AT&T Audience Network’s “Undeniable with Joe Buck,” which is due to appear in the next few months.
Telling Buck he is in talks to fight again in the show’s preview, Hughes said, “If I could find an opponent that I could definitely beat, I would go again. I might even be talking to an organization about that. I'm not saying I am [for sure]. The guy I'm talking about fighting may have been in this chair."
The first part of that quote rankles. Hughes’ willing to only fight if he can face an opponent he would “definitely beat” gives credence to his reputation as a lifelong bully, which is something he is awfully open, even boastful, about in his autobiography—long-time rival Matt Serra produced a fantastic rant about this on his podcast this week.
Despite Hughes’ clear intentions of fighting a poorly-matched opponent; it’s certain there will be plenty of suitors to be the former UFC welterweight champion’s in-cage competition. Money talks and this is prize fighting, after all.
It’s obvious the opponent Hughes alluded to was Royce Gracie. At the time of the announcement, MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani reported Bellator was the promotion Hughes had discussions with and Gracie has already been in the now-infamous Joe Buck guest chair.
Gracie recently made a comeback fight of his own under the Bellator banner following an eight-year hiatus, defeating Ken Shamrock in the first round by TKO—his first ever win by strikes. But this will be the second fight between Hughes and Gracie, their first materialising at UFC 60 in May, 2006, and it wasn’t exactly competitive first time around.
After dominating Gracie on the ground for much of the brief fight, Hughes put an end to proceedings within the first round with some vicious ground and pound strikes to cap off a lopsided contest between two unmatched opponents.
Despite what went down in their first fight and recently turning 50-years-old, Gracie has confirmed what we all thought and is up for a rematch against Hughes. "Man, that would be great,” Gracie told MMA Fighting. "That would be great. Everybody wants to see this second fight.
“I'd be in the fight. The strategy was right [last time]. Everything we planned and imagined he would do, he did. But I wasn’t in the fight. My body is in great shape, the machine is working. There’s only one way to find out [who would win]: we have to do it again.
“Boy, if you want to fight me right now, I’ll meet you there. When you're a fighter, you have to be ready all the time. There’s no ‘I need a month.’ It’s always time. When you're a fighter, any time is time to fight. I won’t ask for more time, say 'I need to get ready.’ You’re a warrior or you’re not. He's confident. That's good. That’s good when the guy has confidence. It’s not bad. I want to fight someone who thinks like that. It’s good when you have confidence. That shows he’s a champion, not a loser.”
The talk of a Hughes return against Gracie is certainly in line with Bellator’s recent remit of pitting two over-the-hill MMA figureheads in the cage against each other, which seems to be a rather successful strategy in building the promotion’s brand so far despite the controversy courted in both Gracie vs. Shamrock and Tito Ortiz vs. Chael Sonnen contests.
However, Gracie’s claim of everyone wanting to see the Hughes rematch carries little conviction—especially considering how the first fight went. It’s hard to disagree with a man of Gracie’s standing, but a credible fight between the two is a hard sell. Not that Bellator will take any notice.
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