It'll be sad to see Matt Hughes walk off into the sunset if he chooses to do so. Hughes won his grudge match last night against Matt Serra at UFC 98 but it was clear his better days are behind him. He had to fight from a weaker southpaw stance in order to allow him to execute his takedowns more easily. At 35, he's lost some of his athleticism and more importantly his desire to drill, train and make himself better. You can't blame the guy after 51 fights. But the one thing he hasn't lost is a supreme confidence in who he is and what he believes in.
Ed Graney from the Las Vegas Review-Journal hasn't covered Hughes often so he wanted to do a piece on the guy that many people say is so polarizing. So Graney showed up Wednesday with the rest of the media gathered at UFC 98 and readied for a conversation with Hughes. One problem, Hughes no-showed workout day. Five other fighters fulfilled their duties with the media but the UFC couldn't find its former welterweight champ. Hughes had decided the 2 p.m. workout didn't fit his schedule. The UFC was nice enough to bring Graney and fellow LVRJ scribe Adam Hill to Hughes' room at the MGM. The writers were greeted with what can only be described as typical Matt Hughes. Hughes, completely comfortable himself, was lying in bed shirtless. He said let's go and the interview was done in bed.
Graney did a great job delivering the casual audience what many of us who cover the sport on a regular basis have learned over the years:
Inside the octagon, he has written a Hall of Fame script. Outside it, he doesn't give a damn what anyone beyond his immediate circle thinks.
As long as his inner circle respects him, Hughes is happy with who he is:
"I tell you what's on my mind," Hughes told the LVRJ. "I don't know why I'm programmed that way. Maybe it's from my upbringing on the farm. I grew up with hard work all day. Nowadays, it's a chore to get kids to put up hay. But the people who know me know what I'm about and like me. People who don't know or like me, I can deal with that."
Hughes is consistent. I can remember grilling him after "The Ultimate Fighter 6" when much of the audience was split on who the villain was, Hughes or Serra? Hughes didn't give a damn that some of his students had bad things to say. Graney picked up on the same thing:
Whichever one, you get what you get from him. There is no guessing. It's not a bad thing. Phony is worse than inflexible any day, and at least with Hughes you know where things stand. I don't know Hughes well enough to confirm he is the jerk many paint him, but I would take that side over many of the bogus, image-conscious athletes whose words are as fake as their smiles.
An interview from bed?
That's him. Take it. Leave it. Like it. Don't.
Hughes is real. Some think he's a real jerk but there's no mistaking where he stands. The opposite approach is why fans have turned on athletes like Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant and Brett Favre.