Tuesday, May 09, 2006


If there is such a thing as ultimate fighting royalty, UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes is king.

Only problem is his next fight is against the man who built the kingdom.

In a much-anticipated match of old UFC vs. new, Hughes will step into the caged Octagon against mixed martial arts legend Royce Gracie in a non-title bout May 27.

Gracie has built a larger-than-life reputation since winning the first three UFCs using his family's home-made mix of ground work and submissions. Gracie jiu-jitsu, which his father Helio developed, is now mandatory training for all UFC fighters.

And after 11 years relishing in mythical demi-God status, Gracie is returning to the octagon.

But if Hughes is supposed to bow and cower, someone forgot to tell 32-year-old farmboy from Hilsboro, Ill.

"He's a very one-dimensional fighter and he's preaching to the world that all you need to learn to be competitive in this sport is what he teaches," says Hughes, who has held the welterweight title almost exclusively since November 2001.

"I have an opportunity to prove to the world that maybe Royce Gracie's theory is not correct and that most of the time a well-rounded fighter is going to win."

Where Gracie stands for everything ultimate fighting once was -- no rules, no weight classes and no gloves -- Hughes epitomizes the new guard.

He's a well-rounded wrestler and former Greco Roman all-American. He can stand up and box while his ground work is as good as any jiu-jitsu expert in the game.

"Four out of my last five opponents I've beaten with submissions," says Hughes, whose record is 40-4-0.

He is also part of new-age UFC royalty -- trained in Iowa by Pat Miletich, whose camp boasts current heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia, middleweight champ Rich Franklin and UFC stalwart Jeremy Horn.

And while Gracie says he'll have his 95-year-old father Helio in his corner, Hughes says he can one-up that, too.

Hughes, a born-again Christian, has God on his side.

"The fight's gonna be in God's hand. It's whatever he wants" says Hughes, a father of two.

Asked about the strange marriage of Christianity and ultimate fighting, Hughes says he doesn't see any contradiction.

"I don't go in there to hurt somebody or put them in the hospital," he says. "I go in there for competition and to put food on the table for my family."

And on May 27 before a near sell-out crowd at the Los Angeles Staples Centre, he will also go in there to put an end to locker-room babble of what's better: Old UFC or new.

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