Fightweets: Matt Hughes' most memorable moments

Esther Lin

Love him or hate him, if Matt Hughes was fighting, you probably tuned in. And that's pretty much the definition of a star.

Hughes' retirement, along with his new front-office position, was announced on Thursday at the UFC on FOX press conference in Chicago.

FightMetric.com ran a breakdown of Hughes' career stats. I won't list them all since they're the ones who did the work, but a noteworthy numbers: Hughes' 18 wins are still most in UFC history, and his combined welterweight title reigns lasted 1,579 days, third behind Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre.

Whether you thought Hughes was an arrogant, gun-toting country boy and hated him for it, or whether you loved him for those same reasons, it's fair to say few will disagree that Hughes dominated during his heyday and always brought it in the Octagon.

Here's a look back at my personal five most memorable Matt Hughes moments. There's set no criteria here, just five Hughes fights, win or lose, that remain seared on my brain after all these years.

5. First UFC welterweight title win, over Carlos Newton, UFC 34, Las Vegas: One of the most memorable finishes in MMA history. Hughes, trapped in a triangle, picked up Newton for a slam, and was actually put out by the choke while executing the slam, which knocked out Newton. Fortunately for Hughes, ref John McCarthy noticed only that Newton was out, and awarded Hughes the victory and title.

4. Upset loss to B.J. Penn, UFC 46, Las Vegas: Hughes was considered unbeatable at this point, with 13 straight wins and five successful title defenses. Penn was coming up from lightweight and was a considerable underdog. But Hughes underestimated Penn, and Penn dominated their fight from wire-to-wire, finishing Hughes with a rear-naked choke at 4:39 of round one. The defeat marked Hughes' only loss in a 20-fight span.

3. Title loss to Georges St-Pierre, UFC 65, Sacramento: There was something in the air at Arco Arena on Nov. 18, 2006. The evening simply felt like a changing of the guard from the moment the doors open. St-Pierre obliged by putting on the performance he couldn't the first time the two met, finishing the job with the sort of ground-and-pound elbows which were Hughes' calling card. It's worth noting that this bout came just seven weeks after Hughes' battle of attrition with Penn in their rematch, and that Hughes was never quite the same fighter after those back-to-back wars.

2. Rematch win over B.J. Penn, UFC 63, Anaheim: For two rounds, Penn looked well on his way to regaining the welterweight title. I was cageside for this one, and to this day have rarely experienced an arena as charged with electricity as when Penn had Hughes trapped in a triangle late in the second round and Hughes had to ride it out until the horn sounded. In round three, Penn faded, and Hughes picked him apart to win via TKO.

1. The big slam against Frank Trigg, UFC 52: Long after we're all dead and buried, the UFC will probably still show the clips of Hughes breaking Trigg's choke, picking him up, and taking him for a ride across the Octagon for a big slam, followed by a rear naked choke. ‘Nuff said.

With that, on to the latest edition of Fightweets. If you'd like to be considered for next week's edition, go to my Twitter page and drop me a line.

Hughes' new job

@cwmwrites: Why Matt Hughes for this VP position? There are others out there (like Rich Franklin) out there better suited to mentor others

Judging by the reaction I've seen online, it seems like fans have it in their head that Hughes' new position of vice president of athlete development is something similar to the old pro wrestling commissioner role, as if Hughes is going to come down to cageside at the United Center tomorrow, overturn the result of the Demetrious Johnson-John Dodson fight, and order a restart.

If we take at face value that Hughes will have a hands-on role in mentoring fighters, and this isn't just a Chuck Liddell-type job title, I can actually see why they'd create such a job for Hughes. I personally disagree with much of Hughes' worldview. But in terms of what the UFC wants from their fighters -- those who accept fights from all comers, do the company favors when needed, make all their promotional commitments, pass all their drugs tests, and give their fans 100 percent every time the cage door is locked -- well, I basically just described Matt Hughes.

As for your Rich Franklin comment, I agree he'd be ideally suited for the role as it's described, but as of now at least, Franklin is still an active fighter.

UFC code of conduct

@cking66: will the code of conduct have consistency with punishment for different fighters, will the public even be made aware of any?

I've been told by someone who knows that the UFC will not be making its code of conduct public, which, as a privately held company, is absolutely within their rights. That said, it would probably be in Zuffa's best interest to make clear the general sort of things the code will cover. Having a code of conduct brings the UFC in line with other big-time professional sports leagues. But the first time someone gets let go, fans are going to want to know the specifics of the deal and if it's being fairly applied.

Hughes-Gracie

@ronnie_mma: Do you think Matt let Royce Gracie off easy when they fought? Seemed he gave up that Kimura out of respect :-)

I don't know if those several dozen uncontested punches really count as letting someone off easy. But you're correct on the Kimura. Hughes admitted as much at the UFC 60 post-fight presser.

Rampage's legacy

@RuckerYeah: So is Rampage as good as he was in his prime, or as bad as he seems now?

How about all of the above? Every sport has head cases who have all the natural talent to become an all-time great, but for whatever reason, never quite live up to their potential. Everything you've seen from Quinton Jackson over the years, from the brilliance of his shining moments to his recent lackluster performances and from his quality performance in his A-Team role to his Orange County police chase, all add up to the total package that is "Rampage." It's impossible to break them down into their component parts, Rampage simply is who he is.

The toughest thing to watch in all this is that Jackson, with all his perceived slights and feelings of disrespect, simply doesn't seem to get that the world treats a fighter on top of the world differently than one on the way out. If you think this is something the began with the UFC, go watch the documentary on former boxing champion Jack Johnson and you'll have an idea how long this sort of thing has gone on.

If it's the star treatment Rampage craves above all else, perhaps Bellator is the best fit for him at this stage. If you saw King Mo play can crusher Thursday night, then it sure seems Viacom going to make the path as easy as possible for the fighters in which they've invested big bucks and a promotional push. And "Rampage," with his undeniable charisma, would be a headlines-stealing coup. But even then, you get the feeling that if a hypothetical Jackson run in Bellator happened, two years from now he'd be making all the same complaints he's making about the UFC.

Flyweight hate

@tcbennett84: Most shocking: live audience showing some love to flyweights or the ratings are huge for the event (> than last FOX card)?

I think the entire flyweight division is being held captive to a notion similar that of a fighter being judged by their last fight. I don't recall hearing a ton of complaints from fans when Joe Benavidez knocked the hell out of Yasuhiro Urushitani. Or for either of Demetrious Johnson's fights with Ian McCall. Or mini-beast John Moraga's fights. Or for the Tim Elliott-Jared Papazian fight at the TUF 16 Finale. It's unfortunate some fans didn't like Johnson-Benavidez, but that doesn't obscure the fact that all around, the flyweights have delivered more often than not.

Diaz's challengers

@Elcujorino: When Nick Diaz beats GSP (criticism is welcome) who would be his first defense? GSP? Long waiting Hendricks? Saffiedine?

That is a bold prediction. Bold enough that I'll play along. As long as he beats Jake Ellenberger in March, Johny Hendricks deserves the next title shot regardless. Tarec Saffiedine is about as close to a title shot as the Atlantic 10 champion will be to the Final Four when the tourney starts.

Fat camp

@Dpop2: Weidman saying he's most deserving of a title shot is like saying he's the skinniest kid at fat camp. Your still at fat camp.

Something about the idea of Chris Weidman being at fat camp made me LOL. That's all.

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