Bout with Hallman means something
A retirement bout for Matt Hughes is a tricky offering. Hughes is about to turn 38 and has lost five of his last nine bouts after being a pillar of pound-for-pound dominance for years. We know he can top solid, midlevel welterweights such as Ricardo Almeida and Matt Serra. However, against elite fighters -- Georges St. Pierre, Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves, B.J. Penn -- the results have been brutal.
The problem, however, is that a great retirement bout brings both competition as well as relevance. Hughes is at worst the second-best welterweight we have ever seen behind St. Pierre, and his presence for a decade has been against the welterweight crčme de la crčme. It is seemingly incompatible for an all-time MMA icon to go out and face an absolute bum or a walkover, but it is equally wrong to have Hughes paired up with another top-five welterweight that's likely to crown him.
So, in order to find a sensible retirement opponent for Hughes, it is important to balance both sides of the equation. You want a fight that means something to Hughes and speaks to his career, but also a fight that he has at least a legitimate chance of winning -- so that if he fights well, he can go out with grace and dignity, as Chris Lytle was able to do recently.
Style matters crucially. As we've seen, Hughes can still bring it when he can take an opponent's powerful stand-up out of the equation. A matchup like Jake Shields would be a high-risk, high-reward fight that would typify Hughes' career, and would also take out the threat of another grisly knockout loss. However, a fight with Shields -- or most of the welterweight super-elite -- doesn't really "speak" to Hughes' career.
One obvious guy does, however.
Dennis Hallman might be set for a return to the lightweight division against John Makdessi, but 155 has always been a hard cut for him, and the Matt Hume-trained fighter is a 35-year-old longtime MMA veteran who can appreciate the value of a good payday. More importantly, Hughes-Hallman III has been a much-craved mirage for MMA fans over the years, and one worth making.
Because of Hallman's two sub-30-second tapouts of Hughes over a decade ago, many people have thirsted for a rematch. For years, when Hughes was champion, people wanted a third bout. Hallman's WFA duel with Frank Trigg was essentially a title eliminator to fight Hughes. Even when Hallman lost that bout (under questionable circumstances), he was signed again by the UFC and given the chance to work his way to a Hughes bout.
Years later, when Hallman was able to surprisingly top Ben Saunders and Karo Parisyan in yet another UFC return, people called for the matchup again. Hallman's stand-up has evolved past Hughes' -- "Superman" does have some power. However, it's not the same sort of threat against the division's elite. Otherwise, it's a well-made, evenly matched 170-pound contest between veterans. Conversely, a fight with someone like Royce Gracie -- relevance perhaps, but no real competition -- would be another blowout for Hughes, and would seem entirely manufactured, like Zuffa forcing a Hughes win down our throats.
A third fight with Hallman means something, but it's also competitive. It balances both sides of the equation. And, it's even good for Hallman, if the UFC is to approach him and basically sweeten the pot with some extra coin for taking on the bout, which assuredly would be the company's M.O.
When it comes to Hughes' rivalries, the men he has fought more than once, none have been able to sweep him. Sure, St. Pierre and Penn might have won their trilogies, but Hughes was good enough to put one in the win column and not be shut out. Give him the chance to do the same against Hallman; letting him set the stage for a triumph which would not be his biggest, but perhaps on some level, his sweetest, and one that could allow Hughes to head back to the farm in peace.
One more fight, and make it Gracie
Having been down in Rio for UFC 134, I can tell you that there are plenty of people who want to see Royce Gracie fight one more time (just as there are those who think the Christ the Redeemer statue is actually him).
The UFC is planning -- depending on whom you ask -- between one and four trips to Brazil next year. Matt Hughes didn't retire, but he has a wife who is threatening to get a switch off the tree if he continues. Hughes says, if it were up to him, he'd fight again. Gracie introduced jiu-jitsu to aristocrats and street thugs alike; Hughes adapted good ol' American wrestling to MMA. Each man paved the way for many with the successful implementation of his discipline.
Given those loosely interpreted facts, the UFC should do a swan song fight/rematch between Hughes and Gracie.
Why? Because, why not? Call it UFC 145: "Trailblazers in their Twilights." You get the feeling the 44-year-old Gracie's rocking-chair stories would be better if he could recount a Hughes "series" rather than a single, forgettable fight.
Hughes beat Gracie at UFC 60 -- and didn't just beat him, but got the jitz pioneer in an almost metaphorical crucifix and pounded him out. It was one of those changing-of-the-guard moments, even though Hughes was the welterweight champion at the time and had been off and on for the better part of five years.
Gracie had been synonymous with the UFC since winning the very first one against men twice his size. He was the sport's holy grail.
Hughes was built Ford-tough, one of those men who feels most at home in hunting fatigues. Why not let the Hall of Famers do it again?
In the Q-and-A session before UFC 134, Royce Gracie sat on a stage with Jose Aldo, Junior dos Santos and Vitor Belfort. He said on numerous occasions that he had one more fight left in him, and he wanted it to be Hughes. This made sense from his perspective. He didn't think the first fight went as well as it could have (understatement). He fought and beat Kazushi Sakuraba a year later, and has been sort of an idling icon since. Hughes just lost to Josh Koscheck in unspectacular fashion, 75 cards after beating Gracie. Hughes' days of contending are long, long past, but his hobby of beating Gracie up never gets old. Given this context, one man has a chance to avenge an aggravating loss, and the other to go out on a win.
Would it be a fight with big consequence? No, it would just be a sayonara fight for a couple of guys with a little fight left in them and nothing left to prove.
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