Hughes wants to prove his time hasn't passed

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One of the classic symptoms of an aged, or aging, fighter is seeing openings and being unable to take advantage of them.

It's no different than a running back who once could burst through a hole for a 15-yard gain when he ran a 4.4 40, but who now runs a 4.65 and can't hit it quick enough to get more than three yards before the pile collapses upon him.

And what Matt Hughes was describing as a problem in his loss to Georges St. Pierre in December sounded suspiciously like a man losing the battle with time.

But the two-time former UFC welterweight champion, who saved the UFC yet again when he agreed on short notice to fight Thiago Alves in the main event of UFC 85 in London on June 7, insists he's far from through.

He's lost two of three and was dominated in the defeat to St. Pierre at UFC 79 on Dec. 29, but he is undaunted. Hughes plans to make a point with his performance against the fast-rising Alves, who is coming off an impressive stoppage of Karo Parisyan.

Hughes, 34, has been one of the sport's most active stars. He's awaiting a grudge match against long-time rival Matt Serra and didn't need to fight in London. But when the card in England was in danger of falling apart because of injuries, Hughes answered the call.

"I'm a fighter and that's what I'm supposed to do, fight," said Hughes, who is remarkably free of the ego and demanding persona that define superstars in most sports. "They called me and needed me to fight. This is what I do, so of course I said yes."

UFC president Dana White had long wanted to make UFC 85 a blockbuster card. And with the original main event of Chuck Liddell vs. Shogun Rua, it would have been regardless of what other fights were added.

It lost a little bit of its luster when Rua was injured, but Liddell is a big enough star that the replacement main event with Rashad Evans would not have impacted sales much, if at all.

But when Liddell suffered a badly torn hamstring last month, what had been a Liddell-Rua main event suddenly looked as if it might become an Evans-James Irvin main. And that was nobody's idea of a bout that could carry a card.

That prompted White to get on the phone and plead with Hughes to save him again. And, just like he did a few days after Thanksgiving, Hughes saved the UFC again. When Serra injured his back in November, Hughes quickly agreed to face St. Pierre instead, saving the card. And now, with the Liddell-Rua bout off and the UFC 85 card in jeopardy, Hughes agreed to take the bout with Alves with the stipulation that he get Serra later in the year, win or lose against Alves.

It didn't hurt, though, that Hughes perceives the fight as one he can win. Alves hasn't lost since being stopped by Jon Fitch at Ultimate Fight Night 5 nearly two years ago and has quality wins since over Parisyan, Chris Lytle and John Alessio.

But Hughes, whose only losses in the last seven years are to St. Pierre twice and to B.J. Penn, sees this as a fight he can win impressively.

"To be honest, I like the matchup," Hughes said. "He's a stand-up guy. On the ground, he's not nearly as dangerous. I'll be stronger, I believe I'll be the better wrestler and I like the fact he's kind of a slow starter. I think I can wear him out before he gets going."

It was Hughes, though, who never got going in the main event at UFC 79. St. Pierre dominated from the opening punch in a bout that many have seen, not without some justification, as a changing of the guard in the UFC's pecking order.

Hughes had difficulty explaining what happened other than he couldn't take advantage of openings he saw.

"I got into a couple of positions I wanted to be in and I didn't pull the trigger," Hughes said. "Walking away from the octagon that night, I said to myself, 'That wasn't me.'

"Obviously, Georges is a tremendous fighter, but I had a real bad night at the same time he had a real good night. When that happens, you saw what the result can be. But I did get into some good positions and I saw some things, but I couldn't do what I knew I needed to do."

Hughes said he's doing more drilling in his training. He's trying to avoid getting too relaxed and is working on technique at a very basic level.

He points out he's much younger than other high-level fighters like Liddell and erstwhile UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, so he doesn't think age or time has caught up with him yet.

"They can still do it, so there's no reason why I can't," Hughes said. "I've pulled out some of the old Matt Hughes tapes and I'm trying to get back to being that fighter."

And while he wouldn't flat say it, don't be surprised if Hughes pushes for a fourth fight with St. Pierre if he's successful in his bouts against Alves and Serra.

The competitor in Hughes won't let him believe he's fallen that far behind St. Pierre, who is No. 2 in the Yahoo! Sports rankings. But he's got too much business in front of him to think that far down the road. Hughes needs to defeat the rising Alves to make the point that he's still a factor in one of the UFC's most stacked divisions.

"I feel like I have a lot of good fights still left and I'm excited about it," Hughes said. "I'm thankful this opportunity came along with Thiago, because Serra's not going to be ready to fight for a while after his fight with Georges and I'm anxious to get back. Nobody should write me off just yet."