I meant to post sooner about last Saturday’s long-awaited showdown between Matt Hughes and Royce Gracie, but the last week has given me a few moments to think about the fight’s conclusion. As I told Bones Wiley before the fight began, my money would have been on Hughes, but morally I was opposed to betting against Gracie. The fact is, I like Gracie better, and was seriously rooting on him to win despite the fact that he was trying to promote his “superior” system. While Hughes is the “all-American,” he stands for everything UFC was not in the early days; Hughes is the type of guy the average person sees in a bar and agrees would kick-ass, because he’s stocky, unbelievably strong, and looks like he can take a punch. That’s the exact opposite of what Royce Gracie showed the world in the early days of the UFC; Gracie was a small Brazilian dude who beat the bejeezus out of opponents twice his size.
Hughes said himself that he was trying to make a statement that the Gracie system of Jiu-Jitsu was not the only system one needs to know to win. He was, in effect, telling the world that the Gracie system was not the best, but in watching him fight, it was quite obvious that the Gracie system was nonetheless mandatory in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Superiority of system or not, Hughes is reliant on aspects of the Gracie system to win, and his pompous attitude does nothing to degrade the Gracie fighting system, even if Hughes’ victory over Gracie was meant to prove otherwise.
Looking back at Saturday’s fight, there’s nothing that was very surprising. We all knew Hughes was a brick house, and no one expected Hughes to win by submission. Even though Hughes doesn’t want to be seen as a simple ground-and-pounder, that’s precisely what got him to where he is today, and that’s the only thing that he won the fight on; I’m convinced that at the end of the fight, had Hughes attempted a rear choke on Gracie instead of bombarding Gracie with punches to the head, Gracie would have gotten away and prolonged the fight.
Admittedly, Hughes was right that MMA fighters today are a different breed than MMA fighters of yesteryear, but he’s wrong about the degree of that statement. Royce Gracie can take most fighters in his, or any, weight class. We’ve seen his work in Pride, and know that he can handle some striking as well, but on the ground, he’s a bloody machine that doesn’t need oiling. When Hughes applied that arm bar, I can’t think of any other known UFC fighter that would have gotten out of that setup with as calm a face as Gracie, and continue to use his arm in a functional manner. In fact, if there’s one thing the fight did teach us, is that Gracie still has what it takes to win in a fight of submissions, and bar none, is the ultimate submissions fighter.
I would have been more pleased to see Hughes attempt to win a fight standing, or win by submission. The former would have at least shown he could avoid a Gracie take-down, while the latter would have ultimately proven that the Gracies are beatable at their own game. Interestingly, it’s clear that while Hughes is a well-rounded fighter, grappling expertise is a sure-fire way of negating much of Hughes’ game, and it’s only a matter of time before we see someone equally versed in ground-and-pound take Hughes on without the expectation of winning by submission.
Yes, the MMA arena has changed, but only insofar that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn’t the sole requirement to gain victory. Really, a better reliance on Vale Tudo techniques, where one should expect to see a pounding on the ground and not just attempts at submissions is where it’s at, and there’s no style that fully embodies that idea. If the Gracie’s actively pursued that philosophy, however, their style could again gain some ground in the Octagon.
In the meantime, I’m waiting for a technical fighter sans Hughes’ strength to vie for the crown. The Welterweight division needs a solid underdog to root for, and sadly Hughes was never it. I’d love to see someone like Luke Cummo head up the ranks, but I’m equally enthused about a more viable fight, like with Georges St. Pierre or BJ Penn.