As I watched Matt Hughes continue to present as unlikable a persona as possible on last night’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter, I was struck by the strangeness of the fact that I used to be a huge fan of his. There was a time when I might have identified Hughes as my favorite MMA fighter, or at least in the top three. I once considered his second triumphant victory over Frank Trigg to be the greatest moment in the history of the UFC. You know, the one where he gets hit in the groin and then nearly knocked out and choked, only to come back and slam Trigg before choking him? That was great…wasn’t it?
But sitting on my couch last night, watching Hughes on TV, I couldn’t see why I might have ever liked him. Who was I then? Who was he? Have we grown so far apart, so fast? Where’s the Matt Hughes I used to know, the hard-working farm boy who never had anything bad to say about anyone, win or lose? Where’s the guy who was like a welterweight Randy Couture, only with slightly less grotesque ears?
In case you haven’t been watching TUF (and I’m guessing you have if you’re reading this blog, unless you’re my parents or Dan Brooks, who is too busy giving those free massages to sailors who come in at the docks on Wednesday nights), Matt Hughes has spent this entire season a) trying and failing to motivate his fighters, b) attempting to use some kind of junior high psychology against Matt Serra and his team, unsuccessfully, and c) making jerk-off facial expressions.
Last night was particularly special in all three regards. When two members of Serra’s team were forced to move to Hughes’ team, they asked if they could have a talk with Hughes and his assistant coaches to clear the air about switching teams. It seemed understandable. The whole thing had the potential to be very awkward, and as Richie Hightower said, if you have someone in your corner you want to make sure they have your best interests at heart.
So how did Hughes react to this situation? Naturally, he completely blew off Hightower and told him he wasn’t interested in getting to know him or be friends with him. Nice. That’s how you build the relationship of trust and respect that is necessary in any coaching dynamic. Well done, Hughes.
This is when I started trying to trace the beginning of my turnaround regarding Hughes. Did I stop liking him when he got beat by Georges St. Pierre? No, it was well before that. Was it when I learned he was such a fervent Christian, quoting Bible verses and handing out copies of the good book like some kind of disappointing Santa Claus? No, plenty of fighters are religious, so that’s not it.
Then it hit me. It began the first time he appeared on TUF, back in season two. My distaste for him grew when he came back seemingly just to needle Georges St. Pierre in season five, and it passed the point of no return this season.
You see, it’s not Hughes’ fault. He’s probably always been this way. I just didn’t realize it because I only saw what he and the UFC wanted me to see: pre and post-fight interviews, training footage, dominating performances in the cage, commercials with him doing vague farm work, etc.
But reality TV is completely different. It gives us the chance to see a situation and then to hear different people give their interpretations of it. It just so happens that the things Hughes does in these situations and the way he interprets them afterward, I find mostly sad and upsetting (as I do this high school yearbook photo of Matt and his twin brother — yikes).
It probably doesn’t help that TUF features Hughes in what may be his worst role: coach. In my experience, the coaching position is best suited for someone with patience, compassion, and the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. These are not the traits that Hughes is known for. He is an excellent fighter, or at least he was in his prime. Often in sports, excellent athletes don’t make excellent coaches. Babe Ruth’s short tenure as a baseball manager was forgettable, for instance, probably because he couldn’t understand why his players didn’t just go up and hit home runs.
Wow. Did I just compare Matt Hughes to Babe Ruth? I guess I did. Anyway, you see my point. Hughes is stubborn, egotistical, dangerously competitive, and single-minded. Those traits might make him a good fighter, but not a good coach. Reality TV only amplifies these traits — which are considered personality defects in the normal world, but assets in the fighting world — and makes Matt Hughes seem as though he’s become suddenly unlikable.
He hasn’t. He’s probably always been just as unlikable, but we just didn’t know about it. Now we do. Thanks again, TV.
Oh yeah. If you were wondering, Mac Danzig won last night’s fight easily and seems to be on a collision course with George Sotiropoulos in the finals, which ought to be a hell of fight. So there.