Matt Hughes Has a 'Sickness,' but Josh Koscheck Can Sympathize

DENVER -- There's a reason you don't hear Josh Koscheck trash-talking Matt Hughes in advance of their UFC 135 bout. It's because, however unlikely it may seem judging by some of his past remarks, Koscheck does, in fact, possess a sense of empathy for his fellow fighters. Especially for an aging legend who seems to be on his way out of the sport.

"Eventually, at some point in my career, I'm probably going to be in Matt Hughes' shoes," Koscheck told reporters on Thursday. "I don't want some young [expletive] kid punking me and talking [expletive] on me, you know?"

But while everyone else may be operating under the assumption that this could very well be Hughes' final UFC appearance, the former welterweight champ is going out of his way to leave all his options open, even as he contemplates the dangers of hanging on too long.

"No matter what happens in this fight, we'll see how I feel afterwards," said Hughes, who disagreed with UFC president Dana White's claim that there was "no way in hell" he'd retire if he upsets Koscheck on Saturday night.

"I'm not saying if I lose I'm done, if I win I'm staying in," said Hughes. "Dana seems to think that if I go out and demolish Josh Koscheck, there's no way I'll retire. I'm telling you that that's not a true statement. Really, it doesn't matter about the outcome of the fight, it's how I feel afterwards."

And, at least for the moment, he feels good, Hughes said. He feels like he needs to fight, which is why he had no problem accepting Koscheck as a late replacement for his original opponent, Diego Sanchez, who pulled out with a broken hand.

"I'd trained so long, I was going to fight somebody," he said. "It didn't matter who it was."

But as Hughes approaches both the last fight of his contract and his 38th birthday, the question is, what is he fighting for? That's the question that the UFC president is asking as he looks at another aging former champ who's in no hurry to hang up the gloves.

"I get to this point with these guys -- and Hughes is a perfect example, same thing with [Chuck] Liddell -- what's next? Unless you guys tell me you want to go for another run at the title, you look at guys like Hughes and Liddell who have accomplished everything -- Wanderlei [Silva] too, Wanderlei's accomplished everything -- what's next at this age? You guys have made a ton of money. Hughes doesn't need to make any more money. Believe me when I tell you."

That much is true, said Hughes. Though he wouldn't turn down "one of those Chuck Liddell jobs," and White said that, in the end, he wouldn't be surprised if Hughes ends up like Liddell, "get[ting] paid to do nothing," Hughes admitted that he's not in it for the money anymore. He could never work again and be set for life, he said, although "that's not the kind of person I am."

But pro fighters who hang on too long risk doing things to themselves that they can't undo with any amount of money, so why can't Hughes, who admits that he doesn't want to be fighting in his 40s and doesn't want another lengthy contract with the UFC, just come out and say that this fight will be his last?

According to Hughes, it's because he has "a sickness" in him.

"I grew up with a twin brother on a farm miles away from everybody else. That twin brother gave me somebody to play with, but it [was] soon after that that we learned competition was a big thing. So I grew up competing my whole life. I've still got such a sickness. I try to have the faster truck than my brother, the better-looking wife, the more disciplined's a sickness, to compete with your twin brother after that's all you've known."

And yet, he has to give it up sooner or later. Watching the way Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell ended their careers on losses, Hughes said, made him want to be different. But as long as he's still winning, how can he convince himself that it's time to quit?

"In a perfect world I go out on top, with my hand raised, and I'm done," he said. "But the bad thing is, we're all competitors. ...You get that win and you just want another one and another one. It's a sickness."

Koscheck, of all people, seems to understand best what Hughes is going through. Maybe it's because he feels like he might be looking into his own future, or just watching the decline of a colleague.

"[Hughes] said it best. He doesn't want to be in his 40s and still fighting, and that's smart," said Koscheck. "Some guys take their career too long and they stay in the game too long. They have four or five losses on their way out and you're just doing it for a paycheck then. I don't want to be that fighter and I'm sure Matt Hughes doesn't want to be that fighter."

But then, Hughes is a lot closer to the end than Koscheck is. It's one thing to say you don't want to become a pro fighting cliché, but another to make the hard choices necessary to avoid it. If Hughes isn't careful, his "sickness" could get the best of him.

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