After accomplishing so much in his storied career, it seemed like Hughes had nothing left to fight for, and some suggested retirement was his best option.
Fast forward to today, and it's obvious the naysayers were a little premature in writing his career obituary. Heading towards Saturday's UFC 123, Hughes is on the verge of winning four straight fights and possibly even working his way back into contender status. So how did he do it? Simple, the power of positive thinking.
"I'm going out there and having a good time," Hughes said. "I just go out and have fun. I try to cut all the pressure away. I'm not going out there trying not to lose. I'm trying to win and having a good time."
The UFC Hall of Famer said that he's managed to take all the pressure off his fighting career, content to enjoy himself in whatever remains of it.
He sure seemed to live that motto during a recent UFC 123 conference call, in which he was the life of the party on a call which included the always entertaining Quinton "Rampage" Jackson along with BJ Penn.
Hughes (45-7) seized one quiet moment during the call to say hello to all the competitors involved, saying the fighters rarely get the opportunity to see each other. At another point, he defended Jackson shortly after one reporter informed Jackson about Shaquille O'Neal's disparaging comments about "The A-Team" movie Jackson was in earlier this summer.
"I walked in that theater not knowing what to expect, but when I walked out, I had a smile on my face and said, 'That's my buddy up there,'" Hughes told a laughing Jackson.
But back to the business of fighting, Hughes will square off with BJ Penn on Nov. 20 in the last fight of a trilogy that will span nearly seven years. It was a fight that excited Hughes so much that he decided to bypass other obligations to take it and settle the 1-1 tie.
"One more paycheck this year will make my wife happy and get her off my back," Hughes joked.
But in reality, it's a fight he's long been interested in. Penn won the first bout in the series in January 2004 to capture the UFC welterweight championship from Hughes, ending his long reign. When they rematched in September 2006, Hughes was again the champ, but this time he overcame Penn's strong start to win via third-round TKO.
Because of their past history, Hughes feels there's more than just one match on the line.
"The way I feel is that if I lose this fight with BJ, it's like losing three fights," said Hughes. "And if I win this fight, it's like wining three fights. It's the final of the trilogy. There's a lot on the line. Three fights are on the line for this 15 minutes BJ and I are going to do battle."
If Hughes wins, it'd be a fourth straight victory, and two of them would be over former champs (the first win in the streak was a decision over Matt Serra).
For many, a four-fight win streak would give them reason to insist their name be part of the title picture. For a legend like Hughes, it would seem a no-brainer. But with the new, pressure-free version, fighting for a belt is not a necessity. He's just enjoying what's left of the ride.
"I'm kind of at a point now, it's whatever they offer," Hughes said. "I'm trying to concentrate on having a good time. If [UFC president] Dana [White] and the UFC come to me and say, 'Hey, we want you to take a shot at the title,' then that's fine. The way I see it, I'm set. I've never been a guy to chase the record books. I really don't care to hold any more records. I'm just ready to go out and have a good time and still compete. I still love to compete."
From the way he hung on the word "love," it's clear that Matt Hughes is far from done. He's having too much fun to stop.