Matt Hughes is a name that probably isn't too familiar to modern UFC or MMA fans. When we talk about some of the greatest 'Hall of Famers' in MMA, names like Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St-Pierre, and Anderson Silva come to our mind. However, even before MMA began to be recognized as a mainstream sport, one of its truest and most dominant fighters was Matt Hughes.
Born in a farming household in Illinois, Matt Hughes began his journey into combat sports through high-school wrestling. He won the state finals twice, once each in his junior and senior years. In collegiate wrestling, he ended up in fifth place as an all-American.
The broad-framed fighter with a background in wrestling had 29 fights all over the world before becoming the UFC welterweight champion in 2001. Matt Hughes traversed a legendary journey that saw him defeat some of the best fighters and future champions of MMA.
3 reasons why Matt Hughes is the UFC welterweight G.O.A.T:
With 54 fights in his pro MMA career that spanned a period of 13 years, Hughes lost just nine times. In this article, we look at three reasons why Matt Hughes is rightfully the ultimate UFC welterweight G.O.A.T.
#3 - Avenged his coach's loss despite being choked out
Matt Hughes was a member of one of the early MMA training organizations called the Miletich Fighting Systems. It was established by Pat Miletich, who was the very first UFC welterweight champion.
The organization has produced fourteen world champions across different global MMA promotions, with five in the UFC including Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes, and Robbie Lawler.
Pat Miletich defended his UFC welterweight title four times over a period of two years after winning it in 1998. In a big upset, he lost the title to a fighter named Carlos Newton via a bulldog choke.
After Dana White became UFC president in 2001, he looked to Matt Hughes as the next welterweight title contender. Resisting at first, Hughes accepted the challenge after his coach Miletich persuaded him to.
Entering the bout at UFC 31 in November 2001, Matt Hughes and Carlos Newton went back and forth in the first round in a fairly even fight. However, the second round was completely unexpected as Newton held Hughes in a triangle leg choke. Hughes defended it by picking up Newton and holding him against the cage.
Just as Matt Hughes was about to pass out, he slammed Carlos Newton to the floor with everything he had, knocking the champion out. Although Hughes was declared the winner, it later became a controversial decision. Newton claimed that Hughes had not slammed him to the floor on purpose but was passed out himself.
Matt Hughes later admitted to it, as well, when he was heard telling his corner while watching the replay, "I was out." Nonetheless, in what became one of the craziest stoppages ever, Matt Hughes was crowned the UFC welterweight champion, avenging Pat Miletich's loss in the process.
#2 - Matt Hughes became "The Gracie Killer" without even learning jiu-jitsu
Brazilian Gracie jiu-jitsu is a highly respected school of training in MMA. It was developed in the 1920s by Carlos Gracie, Royce Gracie, and a few other Gracie brothers after building on the Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu. Some of the most popular current-day practitioners of BJJ are Charles Oliveira, Nate Diaz, and Demian Maia.
Despite a background in amateur wrestling, Matt Hughes absolutely destroyed accomplished Gracie jiu-jitsu black-belts in the UFC. Largely feared in MMA circles of their era, Gracie BJJ experts like Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Ricardo Almeida, and Matt Serra all fell victim to ruthless assaults by Matt Hughes.
Matt Hughes defeated Royce Gracie at UFC 60 via TKO in the first round. His win against Matt Sera, one of his biggest rivals at the time, via decision at UFC 98 was awarded 'Performance of the Night'. At UFC 112, Hughes bested Renzo Gracie via TKO (legs and punches) in the third round. He submitted Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117 in the first round via anaconda choke, winning the Submission of the Night bonus.
#1 - Defeated two of the greatest welterweight fighters ever
The debate over Matt Hughes being the greatest welterweight fighter of all time should be settled with the fact that he has defeated two of the greatest welterweight MMA fighters ever - B.J. Penn and George St-Pierre. Let's take a look at the profiles of the two fighters and see why this is a big deal.
B.J. Penn was the first American gold medallist of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. The former UFC lightweight and featherweight champion has competed in the featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight divisions of MMA. Penn is tied for the most consecutive successful title defenses in UFC lightweight history (3) with Benson Henderson, Frankie Edgar, and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
At UFC 63 in 2006, Matt Hughes defeated B.J. Penn in the second round via TKO, defending his welterweight title. The bout earned the two a 'Fight of the Night' bonus.
Former UFC welterweight and middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre became only the fourth fighter in UFC history to hold championship titles in two divisions. A two-time welterweight title winner, he retired in 2013 as the reigning champion after defending it for a record nine consecutive times.
Georges St-Pierre came out of retirement in 2017 to face then-middleweight champion, Michael Bisping. He defeated Bisping via submission to win the title but vacated it soon after due to a medical condition. GSP also held the record for most wins in title bouts (13) after winning 12 times as a welterweight and once as a middleweight.
Matt Hughes handed Georges St-Pierre the first loss of his career. Fighting for the vacant welterweight title at UFC 50, Hughes submitted GSP via armbar with just one second left in the first round.