The following is the second in a series of stories written by Brian Hoops about the 2013 George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame induction class.
Matt Hughes to receive prestigious award from Dan Gable Museum
One of the pioneers of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the welterweight division and most popular fighters of all time, Matt Hughes, will be in attendance for the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame weekend on July 13 in Waterloo, Iowa, to receive the prestigious George Tragos award.
“I think it’s a high honor to get,” said Hughes. “I had always looked up to Dan Gable and to receive anything from him, whether it’s a handshake or an award, will be an honor.”
The award is presented annually to an exceptionally competitive wrestler who has adapted his wrestling skills and competitive nature to excel in Mixed Martial Arts. Previous winners include Pat Miletich in 2011 and Dan Severn in 2012.
Hughes was a two-time state wrestling champion at Hillsboro High School in Hillsboro, Illinois. Hughes went undefeated his junior and senior years, winning back-to-back state championships in the 145 pound weight class.
Hughes started his college wrestling career at Southwestern Illinois College (a junior college) placing 5th in the nation at 158 pounds. Hughes transferred to Lincoln College after Southwestern Illinois dropped their wrestling program and placed third in the nation. Hughes continued his wrestling career at Eastern Illinois University, where he became a two-time NCAA All American by placing 8th in the nation as a junior and 5th in the nation as a senior, competing at 158 pounds.
Compared to wrestling legend Frank Gotch, both in size and fighting style and being from the Midwest (Gotch was from Humboldt, Iowa), Hughes gained national fame as a Mixed Martial Artist in the UFC.
After scoring victories in eight of his first nine professional fights, Hughes fought on the UFC 22 card on September 24, 1999, scoring a unanimous decision victory over Valeri Ignatov. The UFC of 1999 was far different than the current UFC. Hughes was not signed to an exclusive contract as UFC was still struggling to get television and pay-per-view clearance. Hughes fought eight more times on independent shows until his next appearance at UFC 26 on June 9, 2000. This time, Hughes TKO’d Marcelo Aguiar in the first round.
“Behind the scenes was tremendously different before Zuffa bought the UFC,” said Hughes. “The previous owners just ran the shows. When Zuffa bought UFC, we immediately had interaction with the owners, we became very good friends and they wanted to know all the fighters.”
Hughes was 29-3 as a professional fighter when current UFC owners Dana White and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the company and began aggressively promoting the UFC product. Hughes defeated Carlos Newton with a slam that knocked Newton out in the first round to win the UFC welterweight (170 pound) title in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 2, 2001, at UFC 34.
“That was a fight I really didn’t want. I wanted Pat Miletich to have the fight because Newton had beaten Pat with the belt. The UFC didn’t want Pat to have a rematch right away, they wanted me to have the fight. When Pat told me to take the fight, that’s when I agreed to fight Newton”, explained Hughes.
“The fight was going about the way I expected until he locked that triangle on me, I picked him up and slammed him and the rest was history.”
Hughes would defend the belt successfully six consecutive times before losing the title to BJ Penn at UFC 46 on January 31, 2004. Hughes would win back the championship back from Georges St.-Pierre at UFC 50 on October 22, 2004. Hughes would go on to successfully defend the title four consecutive times, including avenging the loss to Penn at UFC 63 on September 23, 2006.
“I went into the first Penn fight a little overconfident because Penn was coming up a weight class and no one in UFC did that,” said Hughes. “But I learned the most from that fight than any fight I had. That loss to BJ really made me sit back and think and really made me study my opponents more.”
Hughes would lose the title to Georges St.-Pierre at UFC 79 on December 29, 2007. It would be the last time Hughes would be UFC welterweight champion.
“Georges is probably one of the best fighters I have ever faced,” said Hughes. “Georges and BJ are two of the best so I am very thankful to have a win over both those guys. When my kids grow up, I can tell my kids I have a win over BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre.”
Hughes, 39, retired from fighting with a career record of 45-9. Hughes was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on May 29, 2010, one of only eight fighters to be inducted and the only welterweight.
Schedule of events
Friday, July 12
Noon – Professional wrestling tryout with Gerald Brisco and Jim Ross at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.
5:30 p.m. – Doors open to the public for Impact Pro Wrestling show at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center. Autograph signing begins.
7 p.m. – Impact Pro Wrestling show featuring Colt Cabana.
Saturday, July 13
11 a.m. – History of WWE presentation with "NY Times” Bestselling Author & WWE Biographer, Brian Shields.
Noon—Mixed Martial Arts seminar with Matt Hughes in the Dan Gable Teaching Center inside the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
1 p.m.—Fan Fest at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. Fan Fest includes a tribute to the American Wrestling Association, historic wrestling matches playing in the theater, and Q & A with Bill Apter and Mick Karch, and an AWA reunion.
2:30—Autograph signing with professional wrestling legends at the Hall of Fame.
5 p.m.—Hall of Fame reception at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.
6 p.m.—Induction banquet at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.
7 p.m.—Induction ceremony at Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center with Arda Ocal as the master of ceremonies.
The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is a not-for-profit organization based out of Waterloo, Iowa. The mission of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame is to preserve history, recognize excellence, and inspire future generations.