UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes has confirmed something most of us have likely suspected for years.
“I would love to come back,” the former longtime UFC welterweight champion said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I didn’t want to retire in the first place.”
Hughes, whose run of 19 wins in 20 fights from 2001-06 made him one of the first truly dominant stars of the UFC’s Zuffa era, retired to a front-office job after back-to-back, first-round knockout losses in 2010-11. And now that he’s no longer getting a paycheck to stay out of the ring -- Hughes was one of several former fighters-turned-office employees let go in a round of WME-IMG layoffs late last year -- he’s willing to say that he didn’t really want to quit ... and that he’s open to having another fight.
“My wife said she didn’t want me to fight anymore,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t as fun as when I was just out kicking ass, she didn’t like the worry. And [UFC president] Dana [White] kind of said the same thing, so that’s why I went and retired.”
Hughes clearly remains on good terms with the UFC. He’s always had a friendly relationship with White, who hinted something could be afoot when Hughes visited Las Vegas last fall before the axe finally swung.
The former champ’s words are also a hint at how the dynamics of the UFC’s front office have changed since the announcement of the company’s sale last summer.
“I don’t think Dana is able to run the UFC like he used to,” Hughes said. “He sold so much of it that he doesn’t have that control. So I was still a little surprised, but totally get what happened. And you know, when you have a corporate buyout like that, that’s what happens. They start figuring out how to save money.”
Now that he’s no longer receiving monetary inducement to stay retired, Hughes potentially has the opening to answer that little “what if” voice in his head. He says it’s not the money, but rather the way he ended his career, with bad losses to both B.J. Penn and Josh Koshceck, that have him pondering whether the time is right.
“I think it’s just the fact that I lost,” Hughes said. “I just dislike getting, you know, Koscheck was my last loss, and BJ was my loss before that, and I fully believe that if those fights went all 15 minutes, I would have got my hand raised. I really do. But I got hit in the wrong spot and I didn’t make it out of the first round both times. I still think I’m very competitive, I think I could be, I haven’t trained real hard in the past couple years, but that’s the problem that keeps me thinking I would have a chance of going in there.”
Hughes views the UFC as the ideal landing spot for a potential return. But he also knows the UFC, as of yet, hasn’t been inclined to put on legends fights, the way Bellator has done in recent years to ratings success. So he’ll go elsewhere if he must.
“It would have to be a pretty major organization, so I wouldn’t say [he would fight for] everyone,” Hughes said. “I would really hate to fight out of the UFC, but I would.”
Should Hughes come out of retirement -- and he readily admits there are plenty of hurdles to clear, including the fact it has been years since he’s done serious training -- don’t expect him to attempt to make another run at the top. Rather, he’d like to take on someone in his age and experience bracket. While he won’t commit to calling out a specific opponent, former opponents Royce Gracie and Matt Serra have been often mentioned by fans interested in seeing Hughes return.
“I have no interest in fighting somebody like Tyron Woodley or [Jorge] Masvidal or some of these young kids,” Hughes said. “I don’t. I’d want to have somebody close to my age that would have the same speed, quickness.”
Of course, no matter whom the 43-year-old Hughes fought in a hypothetical return bout, there will always be the contingent that doesn’t want to see it. To which Hughes responds, basically, “you do you.”
“If they don’t want to watch me if I do compete again, then that’s their prerogative,” Hughes said. “But let me be me. I’m going to let them do whatever they want, but they’ve gotta let me be me. Voice your opinion, but come fight night let me do what I want.”
And in the end, all Hughes wants is the opportunity to get his hand raised in victory one more time, a feeling he hasn’t experienced since he submitted Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117 in 2010.
“It’s really just one win, it really doesn’t have anything to do with money, it’s just get in there and competing again and seeing how I do,” Hughes said. “Like I said, I’d be very smart about my opponent. “