A lot of fighters tried to take Matt Hughes out in the ring. A few succeeded, while many failed and failed again. But zero battles inside the Octagon could measure up to the fight he’d face after retirement. A few years ago, a train tried to take Hughes out near his hometown of Hillsboro, Illinois.
He was riding down a country road and tried to cross a track when a train came surging through, hitting the passenger side of his truck. Airlifted from the scene with a brain bleed, with family and friends wondering if this latest collision-not the usual Saturday night showdown with a spicy weigh-in and hype machine attached-got the best of him. Well, it didn’t.
While Hughes’ speech and part of his movement is different or impeded, the soul of the fighter remains. At 47 years of age and four years after the accident, he is a constant presence on social media, specifically his Instagram account. Just ten days ago, he posted an update from APEX Brain Centers, marking the end of his treatment there. He regained a lot of coordination and mobility there, citing the company’s advancements in coming to the aid of people like Hughes, arguably the greatest Mixed Martial Arts fighter ever. The “9” in his IG handle refers to the amount of fights he’s been crowned a champion.
He fought in 54 matches, winning 45 of them, 21 of them by knockout. He fought B.J. Penn three times, losing twice-but he split two matches with Georges St. Pierre. Hughes was a rock in every bout, giving everything and then some. He was a brick wall on his best nights, and a formidable presence on his worst.
After his retirement, he found renewed acclaim on Byron Balasco’s brilliant television series, “Kingdom,” which centered around the world of MMA. In the third and final season of the drama series starring Frank Grillo and Kiel Sanchez, with unforgettable turns from Jonathan Tucker and Nick Jonas, Hughes was the opponent for Grillo’s Alvey Kulina. The St. Pierre/Penn career nemesis to the fictional Kulina’s retired legend. Even the most technical fight cynic of all time could appreciate Balasco’s attention to detail during that Kulina/Hughes battle.
The fight’s authenticity lent a heavy hand to Hughes, one of the show’s best guest appearances. One of the show’s most understated yet beautiful moments came during the weigh-in between Kulina and Hughes. Alvey had just suffered a terrible loss in his family and the man who was aiming to destroy him gave him a gentle hug and salute to the fallen. It was so well-played, and Hughes was a big part of it.
The man isn’t perfect, but he inspires to this day. An unstoppable force that can not be taken down. Few would have survived that train wreck, but even a more seldom party would use his recovery to boost the spirits of others. The UFC Hall of Famer’s following is up to 187K and counting. He checks in almost weekly, and sometimes up to four times a week. His latest post three days ago promoted an upcoming live speaking event in Superior, Wisconsin.
A train tried to take Hughes out. That was 54 fights later. Many have taken the shot and come up short. Hughes is just too strong, and only getting stronger as age settles in. Does he still have it? Yes. Should there be an HBO documentary about his career already? Yes indeed.
Matt Hughes could have retired and rode off into the sunset, and people would view him as the eternal badass, leader of the UFC OG squad. One train accident recovery later, he’s that and then some. Follow him for inspiration. He’s leading the charge. Proof that while life may hit the hardest, the resilient can take the hits. Count the Illinois legend to the short list.