How quickly time passes. In 2008, Matt Hughes published his autobiography, which was titled "Made In America: the Most Dominant Champion in UFC history." At the time, the subtitle was a fair claim. Hughes had already gone through two title reigns, and in one of them, he'd successfully defended the belt five times, which was tied for a UFC record.
A few years later, Hughes doesn't even hold the mark in his own division. When Georges St-Pierre faces Carlos Condit in November, he'll be gunning for his seventh straight welterweight title defense. Meanwhile, middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva is the first to reach double-digits, with 10.
None of that takes away from what Hughes did in his career, but only goes to show how quickly the sport moves on.
Now 39 years old, Hughes has finally admitted that he's about ready to move on, too, done after a career that spanned nearly 14 years and over 50 fights.
"I’ve not announced my retirement, but right now it looks like I’m fully retired," Hughes told Iowa's The Daily Gate City newspaper. "The UFC still treats me well so I can be retired. It’s just funny, when God puts you on a road, you don’t know where you are going. I have all the faith that he put me there, and I have to thank him from that."
Hughes was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2010, before he was done as an active competitor, and even though the promotion hand-picks its honorees instead of having athletes and media vote upon possible selections as other major sports do, there's little question Hughes would have been a first-ballot choice under any system.
The Illinois-born, Iowa-trained Hughes personified his midwest roots as a hard-working grinder with farm-boy strength and unmatched work ethic.
He authored one of the great comeback moments in mixed martial arts history. In the opening minute of his UFC 52 title defense against Frank Trigg, Hughes took an illegal knee below the belt that went unseen by referee Mario Yamasaki. For the next two minutes, Trigg swarmed, looking for the finish on his compromised foe, and had Hughes locked in a rear naked choke. Hughes, though, was able to escape the hold, and in an iconic moment, got to his feet, picked Trigg up over his head, ran him across the cage and slammed him down to the canvas. Within seconds, he had full mount, and after a few crushing elbows, took Trigg's back and choked him out. To this day, Dana White says it's probably his favorite moment in UFC history.
Hughes (45-9) was one of the best fighters of the '00s, once winning 19 of 20 matches during a five-year span. Among his notable victories were triumphs over Royce Gracie, Sean Sherk, Carlos Newton, Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn. He also engaged in memorable trilogies with St-Pierre and Penn.
From late 2006 on, Hughes saw the rest of the division's elite catch up with him. It began when St-Pierre defeated him for the belt at UFC 65, marking the final time he would ever hold gold. He lost to St-Pierre one more time, was TKO'd by Thiago Alves, and ultimately went 4-5 in his last nine fights.
In each of his last two, he was knocked out, losing to his longtime rival Penn at UFC 123, and after a 10-month break, to Josh Koscheck at UFC 135.
In the immediate aftermath of the Koscheck loss, which came in the final second of the first round, Hughes indicated a desire to fight again. Four months later, in January, he revealed that his wife wanted him to retire but said he hoped to fight at least one more time, saying the final decision might come from White.
White repeatedly put his check mark in Hughes' wife's column, recently saying he "absolutely, positively" wanted Hughes to call it quits.
It's now been 13 months since Hughes' last fight, and Hughes moves further and further away from the possibility of returning. He hosts a hunting show, "Trophy Hunters TV" on the Outdoor channel, and he's spending a lot of time back where he started, on his family farm. Like most men of a certain age, his priorities are a little bit different than they used to be.
"I do train a little bit," he told the paper. "When B.J. or Robbie Lawler need a little help, I’ll go and help them train. That’s about it. I love to train, but as far as having a gym where you have to live in it, I would rather live with my family. I want to raise my kids more than coaching. I do some stints on coaching, but I’ve got other things I want to do."
As fighting drifts further down that list, Hughes' accomplishments will stay relevant. He set the records that inspired those that came behind him. He beat fellow Hall of Famers. He was a building block for the promotion. While he may no longer hold the claim as the UFC's most dominant champion, he once did, and that's a pretty nice history to take with him, wherever his future is headed.