Matthew Allen Hughes (Hillsboro, October 13, 1973) is a former US mixed martial arts fighter.
He was one of the most successful champions in the history of the prestigious US organization UFC, having won and defended the welterweight title several times between 2001 and 2006. Since 2010 he is also a member of the Hall of Fame of the same, in addition to having done as a coach in the second and sixth seasons of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter.
After being for a long time a member of Miletich Fighting Systems of former UFC champion Pat Miletich, at the end of 2007 he started his own team, Team Hughes. He has a twin brother, Mark, a former professional MMA fighter active between 1999 and 2003 and meteor in the UFC.
Hughes has a great background in school-based wrestling: he was twice Illinois state champion in 1991 and 1992, and ended his high school period with a personal record of 131 wins and only 2 losses; he continued with good results also at the college and Eastern Illinois University, where in 1996 and 1997 he was awarded as all-american NCAA, first division.
He started out as a mixed martial arts professional on 1 January 1998 with a quick victory by knockout through body slam. In a year and a half he accumulated a personal record of 8-1, where the victories on the future UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne and on the Japanese star Akihiro Gono stand out in a meeting for the Shooto promotion in Yokohama; the only defeat was a quick submission at the hands of Dennis Hallman, an experienced grappler and future contender for the UFC light-weight title who will continue to be Hughes’s nemesis in the future.
Hughes’ successful adventure in the prestigious Ultimate Fighting Championship promotion begins in September 1999, when he made his debut in the UFC 22: Only One Can be Champion event with a points win over the Bulgarian Valeri Ignatov.
After that meeting Hughes returns to fight in minor promotions, where he collects eight more victories against some valuable opponents such as the future UFC and WEC wrestler Joe Doerksen and the boxer LaVerne Clark.
In 2000 he tested his skills as a grappler by participating in the third edition of the important ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship competition, held in Abu Dhabi, in the category up to 99 kg: here in the round of 16 he exceeds the expert Ricardo Almeida and in the quarters finals got the better of the experienced MMA fighter Jeremy Horn, but in the semifinals he had to surrender against the skilled heavyweight Jeff Monson, and in the challenge for the bronze medal he was also defeated by the heavyweight legend UFC Tito Ortiz.
The second match in the UFC fights him against the Brazilian Marcelo Aguiar, winning by technical KO in the first round. Four more victories followed in other promotions, including the one against the Australian Chris Haseman.
With a 22-1 record Hughes is given the chance to rematch against Dennis Hallman in UFC 29: Defense of the Belts: Hughes will once again be defeated by submission in a matter of seconds, and Hallman will go down in history for having been the first fighter to defeat Hughes and twice, the first time in 17 seconds and the second in 20 seconds.
In 2001 Hughes took part in the Shidokan Jitsu: Warriors War 1 tournament in Kuwait, where he was defeated already in the quarterfinals by former IVC champion José Landi-Jons by technical KO. Hughes continues the year always fighting very frequently, and between March and September he shoves seven more victories, one of these against the former pro-wrestler Hiromitsu Kanehara in RINGS promotion.
The high-sounding score of 29 victories and 3 defeats meant that the UFC chose him as the new contender for the welterweight title that was in the hands of the Canadian Carlos Newton: the titled match took place in Las Vegas on 2 November 2001 with the UFC event 34: High Voltage, and Hughes became the new category champion when he put KO Newton in the second round with a body slam. From that moment Hughes began to fight only for the UFC and less frequently.
The first defense of the belt came in 2002 against former middleweight champion Shooto Hayato Sakurai: Hughes imposed himself in the fourth round by a technical knockout against an apparently less strong opponent physically. The same year he defended the title for the second time in the rematch against former champion Carlos Newton on British soil, still winning by technical knockout in the fourth round. In November the defenses became three with the victory over former UFC middleweight title contender Gil Castillo.
In 2003 claiming the welterweight belt was the future UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk: Hughes imposed himself by unanimous decision of the judges of the match with a score of 48–45, 48–47 and 49–46. The same year he broke the welterweight belt defense record, held by Hughes’ first champion and manager Pat Miletich, submitting in the first round Frank Trigg, a fighter who had won the WFA title in the previous bout by defeating Dennis Hallman with a kick to ‘groin and that in fact replaced Pete Spratt, who refused to fight for the title.
On 31 January 2004, at the UFC 46: Supernatural event, Hughes had to defend his title for the sixth time against the champion B.J. Penn, a 360-degree fighter who until then had only fought in the lightweight category: Hughes suffered his fourth career defeat, as Penn subdued the champion with a strangling towards the end of the first round and ended the reign of Hughes that had lasted for more than two years. In May of the same year Penn left the vacant belt to leave the UFC and go to fight in Japan in the K-1.
Hughes faced the expert of Brazilian jiu jitsu Renato Verissimo and won on the points a very balanced meeting.
On October 22, 2004, with the UFC 50: The War of ’04 event, the vacant UFC welterweight belt was called into play: it was Matt Hughes and the undefeated rising star of Canadian MMA Georges St-Pierre; Hughes found his teeth in the skilful French-Canadian karateka, but after only one second from the end of the first round he managed to subdue his opponent with an arm lever, and then returned to the category champion, winning his seventh match for the belt.
In 2005 he defended the title once again against Frank Trigg, who replaced the injured judoka Karo Parisyan, submitting him with a strangulation in the first round.
Matt was chosen as one of the coaches for the second season of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter opposed to the middleweight champion Rich Franklin: it was the only season of the TUF at the end of which the two coaches did not compare, as they were both holders of a belt.
Subsequently the former WEC middleweight champion Joe Riggs was chosen as the opponent for the title, but the latter failed in weight and as a result the match was disputed with nothing to be won: Hughes won however with a kimura in the first round.
In 2006 he fought a superfight without any title up for grabs against the mixed martial arts legend Royce Gracie, father of the Brazilian jiu jitsu and ruler of the first UFC tournaments: Hughes won by technical knockout in the first round, achieving his fortieth career victory.
With the UFC 63 Hughes event he should have defended his welterweight title in a rematch against Georges St-Pierre, but the latter was injured and was replaced by B.J. Penn, the only fighter to have defeated Hughes in the last 19 matches: this time the Illinois athlete retaliated and won by technical knockout during the third round, also getting the Fight of the Night award; at the end of the meeting Dana White called Hughes “the greatest champion of all time”, and Georges St-Pierre entered the cage to promote the rematch between him and Hughes.
On November 18, 2006 with the UFC 65 event: Bad Intentions the long-awaited rematch between Hughes and Georges St-Pierre, fighter until then only defeated by Hughes, came to life: St-Pierre managed to KO the American with a kick to head in the second round, becoming the new welterweight champion.
In 2007 Hughes faced and defeated former Cage Rage champion Chris Lytle on points with a dominant performance. He later left the previous Pat Miletich team to establish his own Hughes Intensive Training training camp in Granite City with Robbie Lawler.
The same year he again lent himself to the role of coach for the reality show The Ultimate Fighter, this time against defending champion Matt Serra, who in the previous match had defeated Georges St-Pierre: the sixth season had to culminate with the challenge for the title between Hughes and Serra, but the champion was injured and remained out indefinitely, forcing the UFC to set up an interim belt for which Hughes and St-Pierre would fight.
The challenge between Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre for the interim welterweight belt took place on December 29, 2007 in Las Vegas with the UFC 79 event: Nemesis: the Canadian who made Hughes pay for it was the interim champion. overwhelmed by the submission suffered in their first challenge, applying a lever to Matt’s arm during the second round; at the end of the meeting Hughes admitted the superiority of the rival, who in the following years will be confirmed as one of the strongest mixed martial arts fighters of all time.
In the middle of 2008 he faced the Brazilian Thiago Alves, who was riding a streak of five consecutive victories and was close to becoming a title contender: the match became a catchweight due to the fact that Alves failed the weight, and Alves himself came out winner of the challenge with a KO in the second round.
Hughes was clearly in the waning phase of his decorated career as a martial artist, and began to fight less frequently: he returned to the cage a year later for the long-awaited challenge between sacred monsters against Matt Serra, a challenge won in points and rewarded with recognition Fight of the Night.