CHICAGO – Matt Hughes, one of the great fighters in the brief history of mixed martial arts, announced his retirement as an active fighter Thursday to accept an executive position with the UFC.
A UFC Hall of Famer and ex-welterweight champion, Hughes was named vice president of athlete development and governmental relations at a news conference at the United Center.
Though UFC president Dana White spoke of a fighter code of conduct in announcing Hughes' appointment, Hughes sees his role primarily as a liaison between fighters and the UFC.
Hughes will counsel new UFC fighters and serve as a go-between in disputes with management.
"That whole situation with Jon Jones and UFC 151, I think I could have had a big impact there," Hughes said of an event that was ultimately canceled when Jones refused to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice.
"I would have talked with Dana to get his take on the whole thing, and then I would have gone over and had a talk with Jones to hear what he had to say. I might have said, 'Hey Jon, you know, this fight is one maybe you ought to take, because it's not that bad,' or I might have gone over to Dana and told him that Jon had a pretty good point for not wanting it. But that's kind of what I see me doing."
There will undoubtedly be issues as Hughes adjusts to life as an executive and the UFC tries to develop and clarify its code-of-conduct policy. There is no perfect policy, but something establishing standards – in writing – has long been needed.
Ike Lawrence Epstein, the UFC's chief operating officer, said the company looked at similar models from the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women's Tennis Association and other organizations.
"We didn't take everything from one, but we tried to piece together the best aspects of all of them," Epstein said.
But coming up with some sort of standard is critical.
White said the UFC isn't trying to stifle fighter opinion and thus isn't looking to fine fighters for expressing unpopular sentiments publicly.
Women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey created a stir when she tweeted a link to a video that suggested the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School were somehow part of a government conspiracy to stir anti-gun sentiment.
In a tweet, which she has since deleted, Rousey called the clip "an extremely interesting must-watch video." Later, Rousey apologized for the tweet, which was clearly insensitive and in poor taste.
Hughes isn't going to become the leader of the thought police, though. He's going to help establish a standard of professionalism that fighters must meet.
The issue of establishing a code of conduct is significant and long past due.
"If you guys only knew how much [expletive] happens every day," White said. "That's the stuff you see. That's the stuff that's public that happens. There's stuff that is not public that happens every day where I get phone calls and have to [get involved]. These guys are human beings and life isn't perfect. … Now, it doesn't matter what a code of conduct says, people are going to have opinions.
"If you look at Joe Rogan, our announcer, he's the biggest marijuana advocate in the world. I don't like drugs at all, even marijuana. Different people have different opinions. Ronda didn't go out and say the Sandy Hook thing is a hoax. She tweeted a video that had 20 million views. Twenty million other people watched that, too. Maybe she's a conspiracy theorist. Maybe she thinks people didn't walk on the moon. There are people out there like that."
So, the UFC will rely on Hughes to work with the fighters to create standards of conduct that will be enforced.
Part of that, Epstein confirmed, will be to continue to examine its policy toward the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Epstein said the UFC wanted to find a solution and suggested one way might be to force fighters to obtain and keep a biological passport.
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