This year marks a significant turning point in Hughes’ career: he starred on the sixth season of the hit UFC reality show “The Ultimate Fighter,” recently started a new MMA gym called The H.I.T. Squad (Hughes Intensive Training), signed a deal with the MMA-inspired clothing brand One More Round, is looking to regain the UFC title from current champ Matt Serra, and even has his own action figure coming out from toy company Round 5. DUB managed to catch up with Hughes in between his brutal two-a-day, four-hour plus workouts to discuss his career, growing up on a farm and his love for hogs (the ones that go fast, not the ones that go oink).
Originally, Hughes was scheduled to fight Matt Serra for the UFC Welterweight Championship on December 29 for UFC 79, but will now fight Georges St. Pierre for the interim Championship due to a herniated disc in Serra’s lower back, suffered in November.
How was life growing up in Hillsboro? Did you always have a love for cars?
I was born and raised on a farm, so my brother and I were always taking the motor out of something and putting it into something else. I’ve always been into turning wrenches.
Tell me about your chopper and about your Hummer H2.
I’ve got a custom chopper from Count’s Kustoms. It’s got a hard tail (no shocks in the back), a 240 back tire and a 100-cubic-inch. RevTech motor in it. I’ve had several bikes, including a [Honda] CBR. I used to like fast bikes, but now I’m just a cruiser in my old age. The Hummer I got for doing “The Ultimate Fighter 2.” It’s an ’06, has a 6-inch lift, supercharger and full exhaust. It’s a good running machine.
How and when did you discover MMA?
I got my start with a small show in Chicago. It was an easy transition from [collegiate] wrestling to fighting. I love to compete. That’s what gets me in the ring.
After training with (former UFC champion) Pat Miletich and his guys in Iowa for many years, how is it having your own gym (The H.I.T. Squad) now?
It’s going great. I’ve got Robbie Lawler, Matt Peña and Marc Fiore with me. I have a new crew of people to train with, but, if I need to, I can go up [to Miletich’s gym] to train.
How do you think Matt Serra stacks up against other top fighters in the welterweight division, such as yourself, George St. Pierre, Jon Fitch, etc?
I don’t think Serra is in the top 10.
Serra has been very vocal in interviews about how he feels about you. What do you think about his harsh words toward you, and do you think you are in his head?
By saying what he says and acting how he does, he is showing everyone how insecure and immature he is. Yes, I think he’s worried.
How do you feel about this season of “The Ultimate Fighter?” Was its portrayal of you accurate?
I was a little frustrated at times, but that’s coaching. It was pretty accurate. Everything they’re showing, I said or did. But the show has definitely helped my career. People know who I am now.
It seems like it’s a mixed blessing that you’ve gained a lot more fame from the show. On MMA message boards like Sherdog.net and “The Underground” at mma.tv, you’ve become a polarizing figure in the sport: fans either love you or hate you. What do you think of this?
You’re never going to please everybody, and I’m not trying to. Sure, there are some people who don’t like me, but to be honest, I don’t care. I’m my own person.
You’ve said recently that you only have a couple more fights left before you retire. Are there any fights with which you want to end your career?
Yeah, I’m going to fight maybe a couple more years and that’s it. I’ll fight whoever UFC gives me. Definitely Georges [St. Pierre]. I think I’m done with B.J. [Penn]. I was thinking about moving up [to middleweight] to fight Anderson Silva, but I’ve got some unfinished business first. We’ll just have to see.
What was your toughest fight ever?
My toughest fight was B.J. 2. Mentally, it was tough because he had beaten me before. He had me in a lot of trouble in that second round with that triangle [choke].
Who was your toughest opponent?
Georges or B.J. Both those guys are really tough.
What fighter do you respect the most?
Randy Couture and Rich Franklin. They’re intelligent guys who always think before they say something.
As a devout Christian who has been very open about his religious beliefs, how do you reconcile that with being in a combat sport?
I’m not going out there to hurt somebody; I’m just going out there to win.
When people look back on your career, what do you want your legacy to be?
I want people to remember me as a guy who did what he said and to be remembered as a good role model. I’d like to thank my fans for their support, and I love all the e-mails and comments I get on my website (www.matt-hughes.com).
Round 5 Action Figures