Matt Hughes is the 9-time World Welterweight Champion of the UFC. With a record of 43-5, Matt has traveled the world and has become a household name amongst mixed martial arts fans. He has proven time and time again that ‘a country boy can survive.’ However, it hasn’t always been like that for Hughes. You see, Matt comes from humble beginnings…
Matt was born and raised in Hillsboro, a small town with a population of 4,500 that is located in south central Illinois. As youngsters, he and his twin brother Mark spent most of their time on the family farm playing and learning the importance of hard work. Matt often remembers being ‘volunteered’ by his father to help family friends on their farms and still recalls his dad driving home the principle that ‘You never take advantage of someone else’s misfortune.’
Matt and Mark’s participation in sports was quite limited while in junior high. As a matter of fact, their junior high sports career only included the interschool wrestling tournament (Mark beat Matt in case you were wondering) and a couple of weeks of 6th grade track. The Hughes boys were needed during the fall and spring to help around the farm and, thus, had to hang up their spikes for work boots once the spring planting season began.
Matt (#40) and Mark (#42) in their senior year at Hillsboro High School
The twins both played football and wrestled during their high school days at Hillsboro. Matt and Mark both played running back and linebacker for the Toppers. In Matt’s senior year he ran for over 800 yards as he and Mark both earned All-Conference honors. However, it was on the wrestling mat where both young men found their home. Matt qualified for State as a freshman (135-pound class) on the wrestling team, beginning a streak of 4 years that saw Matt end each year at the Illinois State Championships in Assembly Hall on the University of Illinois’ campus.
During his junior and senior years in high school, Matt went undefeated and won back-to-back State championships in the 145-pound class. He had an impressive record over the final 3 years of his high school career. In those three years alone he totaled 131 wins against only 2 losses, both which came during his sophomore year (sophomore 43-2; junior 43-0; senior 45-0). His twin brother Mark was making a name for himself at the same time, finishing as the State runner-up during his senior campaign. The Hughes boys led Hillsboro to three 4th place team finishes as well.
Uncertain of what to do upon graduation, both brothers attended Belleville Area College (BAC) for one year. At the conclusion of their freshman year at BAC, wrestling was cut as a varsity sport and, therefore, the twins found themselves continuing their wrestling careers at Lincoln College. Despite different locations the results were the same as Matt earned All-American status on the junior college circuit at both Belleville and Lincoln. Matt placed 5th in the 158-pound class as a freshman and 3rd in the same class a year later, while brother Mark was earning All-American honors of his own finishing 5th at 149. It was after his sophomore year that Matt accepted a scholarship to attend Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston, IL. Matt’s adjustment to the level of Division I athletics did not take long as he earned All-American status by way of his 8th place finish in his first year at EIU. He followed that up by placing 5th at the NCAA DI championships making him four for four. That is, each of the four years he wrestled in college, he earned All-American honors.
Once his collegiate eligibility ran out, Matt became an assistant wrestling coach at Eastern while also working as an electrician’s apprentice. It was during 1996 when friend, Chris Dwyer, approached Matt to fight at a small show at Madonna High School in the Chicagoland area. Matt won his first fight earning $100 in the process. Matt’s second fight did not come till a year later when he went back to the same show. After winning a second time, he teamed with manager Monte Cox. It was at this time when the fights became more frequent and after his sixth fight in the U.S. began traveling overseas. Since then, Matt has found himself fighting on the foreign soils of Japan, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Great Britain, as well as, from coast-to-coast and Hawaii in his home country.
It is no secret that Matt’s greatest opportunity to date in the octagon occurred during UFC 34 when he took the stage against the then-world-champion Carlos Newton. Hughes made the most of this opportunity, knocking out Newton in a come-from-behind victory; earning, for the first time, the belt and title as the “UFC World Welterweight Champion.”
In 2004 Matt lost and regained his UFC title; however, it was the time sandwiched between those two fights that brought about the greatest changes in his life. About the time of Matt’s loss to BJ Penn, he started attending church with his long-time friend and fiancée, Audra Moore. Church was not new to Matt, but it had been some time since he attended on a regular basis. You see, he and his brother had grown up going to church with their mother, but by the time high school came around their attendance became nonexistent. At nearly the same time, Mark and his wife Emily began looking for a church in which to raise their family. Though unplanned by them, both brothers found themselves attending the same church. Shortly thereafter, Mark Hughes surrendered his life to Jesus and was baptized.
Matt married Audra on July 9th and was intently seeking answers to many spiritual questions. During a Texas Hold ’Em game at the family farm, he was asked if he would like to help out on a youth group mission trip to a Mexican orphanage named Rancho 3M. He and his brother both committed that night to going, although Matt later confessed his intentions of going were not because of God, but rather because he likes hard work, he likes helping people and enjoys hanging out with some of his new church friends. Needless to say, God had other plans.
While at the orphanage Matt came across a picture inspired by William Booth called “Who Cares?” Fascinated by the picture, he asked others who they thought they were in the picture and maybe, more importantly, who they thought he was. In the picture, a platform of people are surrounded by a raging sea. While those on the platform remain safe, many are drowning in the tempest surrounding them. Matt came to the conclusion that if he were indeed in the picture, then he was amongst those drowning in the water.
On the last evening of the trip at the base of McKelligan Canyon just outside El Paso, TX, Matt was encouraged by his twin brother Mark to take God up on his offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. About the same time Mark was challenging Matt to stop delaying his decision by saying, “The time is now,” Matt was humbly asking Jesus to be Lord and Savior of his life.
His favorite verse comes from 1 Timothy 1:15-16:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
Since that night at the canyon, Matt regained the Welterweight Championship by submitting Georges St. Pierre in October 2004 and successfully defended it against Frank Trigg in their historic April 2005 rematch. In addition, he was one of the coaches for the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, which aired in late-2005. In 2006, Matt saw a tremendous surge in popularity and recognition with his high-profile victory over Royce Gracie in May and his victory over BJ Penn in September. In November 2006, he lost the welterweight belt to Georges St. Pierre in a 2nd round TKO (technical knock-out); but is well on his way to regaining that title with his recent victory over Chris Lytle at UFC 68.
Outside of maintaining his fighting career, Matt has volunteered his time to helping the young people of Hillsboro, traveled back to Rancho 3M for other mission trips and has become an active member of The First Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro. Matt currently lives in Hillsboro, IL with his wife Audra, son Joey and daughter Hanna Grace.
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