UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes' mixed martial arts career officially came to an end Thursday.
The two-time former welterweight champion hasn't fought since UFC 135 in Denver on Sept. 24, 2011, when he suffered a first-round knockout loss to Josh Koscheck.
But still, the official announcement of Hughes' retirement at the UFC on FOX 6 press conference at Chicago's United Center came out of the blue.
UFC president Dana White told gathered media both of Hughes' retirement and his new role with the company, that of vice president of athlete development and government relations.
"He's not going anywhere," said White. "Matt's been with this company a long time. He's been successful inside the Octagon, outside the Octagon, he's been a very loyal guy to us. You guys always hear me talk about, when we were building this company in the early days, it was like the Wild Wild West back then. It was hard to explain, but there were always a few guys I knew I could count on, and Matt Hughes was one of those guys.
"Matt Hughes never said no to anything. Fighting anybody or doing whatever he needed to help build the sport and build the brand. His new role with the UFC, he's no longer the welterweight champion, will be the Vice President of athlete development and government relations."
The announcement of Hughes' retirement was paired with a second, potentially major announcement, the implementation of an official fighter code of conduct. Zuffa COO Lawrence Epstein, while not giving official details of the policy, said the company will model the code after those adopted by other major sports.
"It really isn't something that's new," said Epstein. "It's something that frankly was never put in writing. Our athletes need to live up to high level of conduct and make sure that everything they're doing obviously inside the octagon and outside is applying to the high standards of the UFC.
"We took a look at the sports landscape, and took a look at what the major sports leagues like the NFL, MLB, NHL, etc., and looked at what some of associations are doing," Epstein continued. "The UFC relationship is that of an independent contractor, it's not a relationship like the NFL where they're employees of the teams. We looked to some of those organizations which have similar legal models. What we discovered is that those organizations had an individual for what they call athlete development."
Part of Hughes' new role will be to oversee the code of conduct.
"The role of that person first and foremost was to be a mentor," Esptein said. "To keep guys out of trouble and keep them from making mistakes that could affect both their career and could tarnish image of mixed martial arts and the UFC. We took a look at our roster of athletes and in particular those who built the sport, which is what Matt has done. We also took a look at the record of thos individuals, and I think Matt Hughes' record, not just as a fighter but as an individual, is second to none."
For his part, Hughes offered a short statement. "It's funny the road God puts you on, you just don't know where you're going to end up," said Hughes. "What started out as a hobby brought me to the UFC and here in front of you now. I love this sport, and the new position is the best way for me to stay in it moving forward. I look forward to using my experience to provide perspective to both the UFC and the fighters."
Hughes, a former NCAA Division 2 All-American wrestler at Eastern Illinois University, was the first dominant welterweight champion in UFC history. He debuted in the company with a win over Valeri Ignatov at UFC 22 and won his first welterweight title with an infamous knockout slam win over Carlos Newton at UFC 33. Hughes' rivalries with the likes of Frank Trigg, B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre helped build the UFC during the early Zuffa era. Hughes lost the title for good to St. Pierre at UFC 65 and finished his career with a record of 45-9.
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