Issue 024

April 2007

November 2, 2001, MGM Grand, Las Vegas / July 13, 2002, Royal Albert Hall, London

Matt Hughes

Rightfully billed as the most dominant welterweight in UFC history, the 33-year-old Hillsboro, Illinois native defended his title successfully seven times in his two title reigns. An exceptionally strong wrestler with some of the sport’s most eye-catching slams, Hughes has been criticized for essentially remaining the same fighter he was back in the late 1990s. That’s unfair, but it’s certainly true – his stand-up striking is weak and he remains heavily reliant on his wrestling, expert weight-cutting, and sheer ‘farmboy’ power. With dominating wins over the likes of Royce Gracie, Joe Riggs, Sean Sherk, Gil Castillo, and Hayato Sakurai, Hughes may well be the most successful supposedly one-dimensional fighter in modern-day MMA. His record currently stands at 40-5.  

Carlos Newton

This 30-year-old submission stylist was one of the sport’s most skilled and consistently entertaining fighters from 1998 to 2003. A regular for both PRIDE and UFC during that period, Newton faced some great fighters like Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Pat Miletich, Jose ‘Pele’ Landi-Jons, Matt Hughes, and Anderson Silva during that time. Generally losing as many as he won, Newton was still highly respected and always gave fantastic entertainment with his in-ring skills and ‘Dragonball Jiu-Jitsu’ nonsense. With a record of 13-11, Newton has had some poor results over the last two years but remains one of the sport’s most intriguing characters and is a very skilled competitor. These days he fights and coaches for the IFL. Now comfortable as a middleweight, in the last few months, he was submitted by Matt Lindland and dropped a decision to Renzo Gracie.  

First defense, first title shot

The first Newton-Hughes clash certainly had an intriguing backstory. Six months earlier, Newton had won the UFC welterweight title by choking out Hughes’ mentor and trainer, Pat Miletich. Unusually for such a slick grappler, the finish of that fight saw Newton opportunistically grab hold of Miletich’s head and squeeze for all he was worth with a vicious-looking schoolboy headlock (also known as a bulldog choke). With a 2-1 UFC record and his last fight for the promotion a 20-second armbar loss to Dennis Hallman, Hughes may not have been the most obvious first challenger for Newton, but that Miletich connection (and a string of impressive wins on smaller shows) earned him the title shot. In the fight itself, Hughes proved himself a worthy challenger. Repeatedly slamming Newton to the mat, only the Canadian’s slick defense and toughness stopped him from being pounded the same way as so many of Hughes’ opponents had been. Slamming Newton again at the start of the second, Hughes looked to impose his will on the mat. The graceful Newton slipped in a tight-looking triangle though, and Hughes responded by standing up, lifting Newton high on his shoulders, and walking over to the fence. From there he just blasted Newton to the mat with what was almost a pro-wrestling powerbomb. His head bouncing off the mat, Newton was out cold less than 90 seconds into the round.

Rarely does the referee’s positioning dictate anything more than the timing of a finish. This time it was everything. Looking at Newton, who was knocked out by the slam, McCarthy did the right thing by awarding Hughes the win. But things might have been different had the referee been positioned elsewhere. When Newton landed, the force of the slam broke the triangle, but Hughes also looked finished. Glassy-eyed and confused, Hughes had no idea he’d won the fight until his corner told him. Although just under six-and-a-half minutes long, the fight had been crammed with action and with that incredible ending a rematch wasn’t just a good idea, it simply had to happen. And it did, almost nine months later. In the meantime, Hughes would TKO Japanese legend Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai. With ‘Mach’ out of the way, Hughes was ready for another fight with the Ronin.

A very different rematch

Despite Hughes’ performance in the first fight, Newton was the bookies’ and the crowd’s favorite for the return match. Headlining the first-ever UFC show in Britain, Newton came desperately close to an armbar from the bottom within 90 seconds, but Hughes escaped and methodically went to work from the top. The champion ended the first round with some hefty punches to the face and used his superb wrestling technique to thoroughly dominate the second. Late in that very one-sided round Hughes cut Newton with some audibly brutal elbows and forearms to the face. The third was even more painful for Newton as Hughes laid in more elbows, some heavy knees to the ribs, and some nasty punches. But late in the round, a surprising Hughes armbar attempt gave Newton a brief opening. The Canadian took Hughes’ back and looked for a rear naked choke but was foiled by Hughes’ effective defense and time running out. The finish came in the next round. Yet again, Hughes dominated on the ground and once he trapped both of Newton’s arms using his own right knee and left arm, Hughes just brutalized Newton with a violent barrage of punches, forearms, and elbows, forcing referee John McCarthy to step in with 93 seconds left in the round. There was no controversy this time around.

Hughes went on to make three more defenses, bashing Castillo, decisioning his clone Sean Sherk and choking out Frank Trigg in style (twice). A shocking submission loss to BJ Penn and the Hawaiian’s contractual wrangles with Zuffa ended up with Hughes fighting for the vacant title against Georges St. Pierre in October 2004. Since then the straight-talking Hughes’ performance as a coach on the second series of the Ultimate Fighter and sheer annihilation of Royce Gracie in a pay-per-view blockbuster fight last May has pushed him into the upper echelon of MMA superstardom. After the non-title hammerings of Gracie and Joe Riggs, Hughes gained revenge on BJ Penn in a genuine UFC 63 thriller. His rematch with Georges St. Pierre was a complete disaster. Hughes had no answer for the electrifying Canadian’s speed and precision. Losing his title in such a completely one-sided fight, Hughes has some choices to make. Does he move up to middleweight? Does he start a long climb back into title contention by knocking off a few other contenders? Or does he look for a rubber match with GSP as soon as possible? Newton bounced back quickly from his London mauling, beating Pete Spratt in style at UFC 40. But since then he’s struggled, posting a 2-6 record. However, the Ronin now seems more settled with the IFL (where he now fights as a middleweight) and a return to the kind of form he displayed in his prime should not be completely ruled out. After all, at just 30, he has plenty of time left. 2007 looks like a fascinating, pivotal year for both men.