Former longtime UFC Welterweight Champion and UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes has been enjoying somewhat of a late-career resurgence. After losing convincingly to Georges St. Pierre (twice) and Thiago Alves (though a decision win over Chris Lytle did break up that losing streak) in the span of four fights, some were calling it the beginning of the end for Matt Hughes.
Fast forward two years and Hughes is on a three-fight winning streak (having defeated Matt Serra, Renzo Gracie, and Ricardo Almeida) and set to take on former rival BJ “The Prodigy” Penn in the concluding bout of their trilogy. Speaking with MMAFighting.com, Hughes revealed the source of his continued motivation (and possibly the source for his recent in-cage successes) and what he feels is on the line against Penn.
“I’m going out there and having a good time,” Hughes said of his current approach to fighting. “I just go out and have fun. I try to cut all the pressure away. I’m not going out there trying not to lose. I’m trying to win and having a good time.”
While Hughes is enjoying a win streak, Penn has fallen in his last two outings–both against current UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, who took Penn’s belt in their first bout. Considering Penn’s current skid and his recent past at welterweight (his last three bouts contested at 170-pounds have ended in losses to Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, and St. Pierre, respectively), Hughes was not expecting the Hawaiian fighter to be interested in moving back up in weight to face him.
“I really didn’t,” Hughes recently told MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani in response to being asked if he ever expected to face Penn again prior to this fight’s booking. “When I saw BJ lose the second time to Frankie, I was really surprised. I thought BJ would’ve been a different fighter for that fight. I asked Dana, ‘Who’s it against?’ and he said, ‘BJ Penn,’ I was pretty shocked. I’m just surprised that the UFC wanted the fight right now, I’m surprised that BJ wanted the fight right now. Who would’ve guessed somebody to move up in weight after losing twice at a smaller weight. I am surprised but you’ve got to take your hat off to BJ, he’s always wanting to fight the best guys out there.”
Including the bout against Penn, Hughes will have competed three times this year and the Hillsboro, Illinois native told Sherdog that he is enjoying the increased activity.
“I’m liking the activity. In the past, I’ve taken a long time off between fights,” said Hughes. “This year has been good for me because I’ve stayed in shape. I don’t spar every week if I don’t have a fight coming up. At 37, I have to slow down and train a little smarter as opposed to training harder.”
Going along with his new no-pressure mentality, Hughes isn’t attaching big expectations to his current string of successes; opting instead to get enjoyment from the competition and let the rest play out as it will.
“If Dana comes to me and says they want me to make a run at the title, then that’s fine. When presented with a title shot, I think anyone would jump at it,” said Hughes. “But the way I see it, I’m set. I’ve never been a guy to chase the record books. I’m just looking to have a good time and compete. When [my career is over], I’m sure I’ll miss it. But when I retire, I don’t think it’ll be because I don’t like competing. It will be because my heart and mind aren’t in it.”
Having lost his title to Penn in a huge upset in their original meeting at UFC 46 back in 2004 and then having defeated Penn to retain his belt two years later at UFC 63, Hughes feels that all the marbles are on the line in their third and final meeting this weekend.
“The way I feel is that if I lose this fight with BJ, it’s like losing three fights,” said Hughes. “And if I win this fight, it’s like wining three fights. It’s the final of the trilogy. There’s a lot on the line. Three fights are on the line for this 15 minutes BJ and I are going to do battle.”
Penn and Hughes will meet tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan, in a bout that will serve as the co-main event of UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida. As always we will have live coverage of the event.