The upcoming UFC Welterweight Championship match between Matt Hughes and sport legend Royce Gracie in May promises to be a barn-burner. Will we predict a winner in this article? No, we're not that stupid.
Yes, it does seem that many are backing Matt Hughes in this match: one reporter
has referred to Matt as "one of the toughest guys on the planet." But we remember
how the same people had previously said Royce Gracie stood little chance against an
opponent, only to be proven dead wrong in the end.
Let's first look at the champ. Matt Hughes captured the welterweight title at UFC 34, when he defeated then-champ Carlos Newton by KO in 1:27 of round 2. He's since successfully defended his title against such talented opposition as top striker Hayato Sakarai and Carlos Newton in a rematch. Many call Hughes the modern UFC's "champion of champions." Matt fights out of Hillsboro, IL.
Fans of the UFC have probably noticed Hughes' greatest strength may be his powerful takedowns and huge body slams. Hughes' grappling abilties have of course always been top-notch, and watching him pit those techniques against Gracie, one of the world's grappling masters... you can't put a price on something like that.
Originally a wrestler, Hughes rounds his skills with Miletich Fighting Systems. For Matt this means training with UFC great Pat Miletich and his team, which includes Jeremy Horn, Robbie Lawler, and Tim Sylvia. Matt has been working with Miletich on the art he feels to be his weakest: punching. Miletich has indeed helped make Hughes a more complete fighter.
So this point should be noted: the powerful Hughes does seem to have learned from Miletich the necessary ingredients for a strong, crisp, and clean punch "with bad intentions," as Mike Tyson used to call the powerful, sophisticated technique he possessed before degenerating into a sloppy, one-dimensional fighter.
Referring to what it takes to have "the perfect punch," Hughes said in an interview last year that:
"The key ingredient [in a strong, powerful punch] would be twisting your hips and using your hip power with your punches. Most people have the problem of just throwing their arm around. It's all in the hips."
And he is right: the principal ingredient to a great punch is factoring in the hips and mid-section, what Bruce Lee used to refer to as the power center for punches. If Hughes has mastered the technique of putting his hips into his punches, and makes sure his footwork is solid when he throws those bombs, it will give him the ability to put both his weight and the power of his entire body behind a strong punch with "bad intentions."
So much for the champ; now let's check out the legend...
Royce Gracie is, along with Ken Shamrock, one of those whose abilities and appeal literally built the UFC sport we know today. Royce Gracie introduced himself, and the art of Brazilian or Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, to the American world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in November 1993. The lean 6-foot, 176-pound Royce shocked many by dominating and defeating much bigger opponents, some outweighing Gracie by more than 50 lbs.
It was different in UFC 1, where Gracie first made his name. Royce defeated three fighters in a single night, in battles fought without gloves, without time limits, without weight classes, without judges, and without almost any rules.
But that was then, and this is now. Gracie was toughness personified; but it's not 1993 anymore. Royce Gracie is 39 years old, fighting in what he himself has recently dubbed "a young man's sport." And even if age isn't a factor for Gracie, it's been well over a decade since Royce walked inside the UFC octagon.
If anyone can overcome these factors, and actually defeat Matt Hughes, it may be Royce Gracie. But at the same time, Gracie has filled his plate with quite a lot of stuff this time around; it will be tough for Royce to finish all he's started.
But let's not give the impression that for the past decade, Royce Gracie has been watching TV, getting fat and watching old "Seinfeld" reruns. Gracie has been spending the last decade in Japan, fighting there for the past five or six years in both Pride and K-1. So Hughes will be fighting a man still in peak condition, with flawless skills and the extra experience that comes with fighting professionally for so very long.
In an recent interview posted on NoDQ.com, Gracie gave his thoughts on the upcoming May fight:
"I am coming to fight...I hope that Hughes [also] comes to fight and doesn't try to play the judges. I don't want it to be left up to the judges. I hope he finishes me off or I finish him. Somebody is going to get choked out."
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