Matt Hughes faces what is potentially the last fight in his UFC and MMA career on Saturday when he faces late-replacement Josh Koscheck at UFC 135. In this exclusive interview with MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan, the UFC Hall of Famer and former welterweight champion opens up about how he'll decide his future win or lose, his friendship with former foe B.J. Penn, coming full circle with former trainer Pat Miletich and whether or not current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre is risk averse.
Full transcription and audio below:
Luke Thomas: Matt, How are you, sir?
Matt Hughes: How you doing, Luke?
Luke Thomas: Good. Before we started with Josh Koscheck and there's a lot to get to there, I want to back up just a step. It seems like your relationship with your former rival, B.J. Penn, has really blossomed. How would you characterize your relationship today with B.J. Penn.
Matt Hughes: Well, obviously we have a very good relationship. I'm not real surprised you led off with this topic. Everybody seems to kind of wonder. B.J. and I had three fights together. There's not gonna be a fourth fight so there's really no reason for us not to get along.
Luke Thomas: What's the most interesting thing that you learned from B.J. as you moved from rival to friend? What did you learn about him that you didn't know before?
Matt Hughes: Two things come to mind really quick. Number one is his sense of humor. Him and I have a similar sense of humor and number two, he's very, very intelligent. Before I thought he was just kind of an athlete that was very flexible and that's actually not the case. He's a very intelligent fighter and he's able to pick things up quick and just see things that most fighters wouldn't be able to see.
Luke Thomas: The UFC 135 countdown special aired last night on Spike TV and one of the things they noted was that you had sold your gym, The H.I.T. Squad to be closer to your family and there's been reports that you've been training with Jeremy Horn at Salt Lake City and even your old coach Pat Miletich. How did you come full circle from being with Miletich, becoming a champion, going out on your own and getting back there. Who reached out? I know you kept the relationship with Jeremy Horn but have you always kept up your relationship with Pat Miletich?
Matt Hughes: Yeah, Pat and I, of course we're both busy and we do more texting than we do talking but I said, "Hey, I'm having a training camp in Hillsboro. Are you free in that week to come down?" and he said, "Yeah, I can come down for three days." It was very good. It was the first time we'd trained in quite a few years. Pat and I are like brothers, no doubt about it. If Pat would ever need anything, he'd call me up at 3 o'clock in the morning, need me to drive him somewhere, I'd do it and I'm sure he'd do the same thing for me for sure.
Luke Thomas: Is it fair to characterize, was your camp like old times. Is it the same people, but a new feel? Contrast the way the camp is now to the way it was to the height of the MFS days.
Matt Hughes: Well, back when Miletich had his big camp up there and there were quite a few world champions that would walk in the door every day and there's a bunch of guys up there, it was a meat market. If someone new walked in the gym, they were probably gonna get beat up pretty bad. Us core guys were kinda the ones doing the beating. It's not that way anymore. I've gotten older, a little more mature and I don't beat up on people like I used to when they step in the gym. Jeremy's out here in Salt Lake City. He moved away first. I moved away after Jeremy did so all us getting back together for this fight was a good thing. We had a lot of fun together.
Luke Thomas: You're fighting Josh Koscheck, who in his last fight quite literally got his face broken. He couldn't even leave the country until he got it operated on. To what extent that may or may not have any lasting effect on his ability to compete?
Matt Hughes: I think it's definitely in his head mentally. He does not want to get hit with a bunch of jabs no doubt about it. I would kind of think maybe Josh would go out and try to look for more takedown instead of sitting there slugging, but you know Josh loves to throw that big right hand so I'm definitely gonna be keeping track of the big right hand. I've looked into him throwing more takedowns and trying to fight on the ground with the serious injuries he had over the last fight.
Luke Thomas: Josh makes a claim that he's been calling you out for years and years and years and your assessment is, "I was a champion. They gave me who I was supposed to fight. How could I possibly duck this guy." For the folks that may not understand. How is it that Koscheck can claim this and yet you believe that, "You know what? Listen, it was impossible to duck it." Explain to me what's going on here.
Matt Hughes: Well I know Josh at least and maybe twice after a fight had said he wanted to fight me but that's not my call. I don't go to the UFC and say who I want to fight. The UFC calls me and says, "Hey, we want you to fight so-and-so." He shouldn't have been asking me about it, he should have been asking Dana White about it. He's the one who controls who I fight. Fighters don't go to Dana White and say, "Hey, I wanna fight so-and-so," Dana goes to fighters and says, "Hey, do you wanna fight Joe Blow?" He's just a little confused on I guess how it works.
Luke Thomas: Why do you think he has targeted you?
Matt Hughes: Well, I can't really blame him there. I do have the most titles in the weight class and I'm a former champion, Hall of Fame. I don't blame Koscheck for wanting to fight the best at all. I would be the same way. What I kind of think is, call out the champion. Call out the guy who has the belt, not the guy who had the belt.
Luke Thomas: Contrast for me, if you would, your original opponent which was Diego Sanchez. He's a handful as well and Josh Koscheck is no slouch either. What is the difference between the two, particularly as it relates to your preparation?
Matt Hughes: Well, Diego's a southpaw. Josh is right-handed. I think I was really going to be able to control the wrestling with Diego whereas Josh is a much more accomplished wrestler and I'm gonna have a harder time doing that. Other than those two things, they're a lot alike. Diego would probably have had a deeper gas tank than Josh will. Diego's always pushing forward and he's always, "Go, go, go!" Josh isn't really like that. He's not really a pace-pusher like Diego is.
Luke Thomas: Do you believe they're of a comparable skill level? Obviously they have different skill-sets but in terms of their level of talent, is this an upgrade or a downgrade or about the same?
Matt Hughes: I look at it as about the same to be honest. I think if those two fought 10 times it would be about five and five. I think they're pretty comparable.
Luke Thomas: Now Matt, correct me if I'm wrong but this is the last fight on your current UFC contract. Is that right?
Matt Hughes: Yes, sir.
Luke Thomas: So that tells me and if I'm overreaching, by all means correct me, but it tells me that if you go out and win dominatingly, you'll decide, "Hey, this is something I want to continue doing at age 37," but if you don't and things don't necessarily go your way, you might reevaluate potential retirement. Have I accurately characterized the situation?
Matt Hughes: Somewhat. I really don't think it matters if I win or if I lose. I think after this fight, I'll go to the UFC and I've already expressed my concerns about not fighting into my 40s so I think we'll look at this and if they've got a position open in the UFC, I might switch gears and stop competing and do something else for the UFC. It really won't depend on if I win or lose. It will depend on what me and the UFC want to do afterwards.
Luke Thomas: What would you like to do for the UFC? Perfect world, you can write your own job, what would it be?
Matt Hughes: There's been a couple times where I went to state legislature and talked to them about the safety of the sport and trying to get it legalized in the state. I know New York is the big state right now where they're having a hard time getting it legalized there so if they had a job where I could go around doing some talking from a fighter's standpoint, I'd love to do that. I'd love to help the UFC in any way they can get it legalized all throughout the country and that would mean travelling to New York or anywhere else in the world to help them be global.
Luke Thomas: There's one issue that I have to weigh in on before I let you go and I really appreciate your time again we're speaking with Matt Hughes who's taking on Josh Koscheck this weekend at UFC 135 and he also had a DVD out today and we'll get to that in just a moment but before we do, talk to me real quickly. There's been growing criticism of UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, a man you have a long history with, and the criticism is that, listen, he's an immense talent, and even when he's fights safe, he can beat everybody, but he's fighting safe. He's not maximizing his talent relative to the risk. Where do you weigh in on that debate?
Matt Hughes: I'll give you my point of view. I was going to play it safe and be the politician but I'll give you my point of view. First off, I like GSP. Great guy. If I had to pick another welterweight fighter to sit around and have lunch with or dinner with, GSP would definitely be top on the list. Great guy, but I do feel he plays it safe in some of his fights. When you've got a person hurt or at his weakness, you've really gotta go in for the kill. It's my belief. GSP, when he gets somebody hurt, he kinda tends to slow down and not speed up where I'm the exact opposite. If I see blood, I really go in for the kill and he really doesn't do that so I can definitely see where people are kinda criticizing him about this a little bit.
Luke Thomas: Last question about this. Do you attribute that to the loss to Matt Serra?
Matt Hughes: No, if I had to attribute it to something, I think he's making good money, he's got the belt around his waist and he just doesn't want to risk those two things to go in and finish somebody. To finish somebody, you put yourself at a little bit of risk and he has to want to put that risk in there.