Thursday, January 19, 2006

UFC: Hughes vs. Gracie

I haven't blogged about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the past, but Monday's announcement was unique. Royce Gracie will return to the UFC in may. and as if that isn't enough, he will be facing welterweight champion Matt Hughes.

Royce Gracie won three of the first five UFCs and is one of the few members of the UFC hall of fame. To a diehard UFC fan, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu expert is Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan all rolled into one. There's no question that Royce introduced North America to the art of Gracie Jujitsu (a.k.a. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) when he won the first UFC belt. At the announcement of his return, Gracie was asked if he was proud of his contribution to the UFC. a wide grin swept across his face. "this is my house," he said, "I built it."

So the question on every UFC fan's mind is can the 39 year-old Gracie defeat the 32 year-old champion? when Hughes was asked if Gracie was behind the times, his answer was blunt: "yes."

Some argue that Gracie is not a modern mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter; he relies heavily on his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) expertise. Not surprisingly, none of Gracie's victories have come by knockout. While it's true that Hughes relies heavily upon his background as an NCAA wrestler, he trains with the highly respected Miletich MMA team. Hughes can fight on the ground, but he can also strike from his feet. Although it’s only fair to point out that Hughes is a ground and pound fighter—he generally doesn’t knock people out either.

If Hughes decides to stand up throughout the fight, Gracie will have the reach advantage (he is 6'1" and Hughes is 5'8"), but will he be able to use it? In his UFC days, the only strike that Gracie regularly employed was a heel kick to the kidney. He used the kick to distract a grounded opponent - not to end the fight. Ironically, this one strike he used the most has subsequently been outlawed in the UFC rules.

It seems a certainty that Gracie will try to pull Hughes down into his Jiu-jitsu guard. if you want to see a demonstration of Gracie's strategy, check out his Price FC match against Sakuraba (Royce Gracie vs. Kazushi Sakuraba is available on Google video ( In the fight, Gracie was not able to get Sakuraba to the ground without taking significant damage.

So what if Gracie is able to get Hughes to the ground, what will happen on the mat? Contrary to what some MMA fans have posted on forums, I don't believe that Gracie is "in a completely different league on the ground." I don't write this because I lack respect for BJJ - quite the opposite is true. Gracie inspired me to start training Jiu-jitsu. I believe that Hughes can roll with Gracie—in MMA—because he is a UFC champion, a talented wrestler, a full-time fighter with tremendous strength and experience, and most importantly, this is not a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match. Gracie would have a technical advantage in a BJJ match, but that's a whole different sport.

Gracie is a talented Jiu-jitsu pioneer, but this is MMA and he will be the underdog in April. as Hughes said at the fight announcement, the current champion simply has more ways to win.


inhimdependent_lds said...

It is true that Matt Hughes is not anywhere close to being in the same class as Royce on the ground. Matt will be smart to keep it standing- if he can. Not to take anything away from Matt Hughes- Matt is a great wrestler and a great athelete. But Royce eats wrestlers like Matt for lunch on the ground.

You have to keep in mind that we are not use to seeing Royce fight opponents his own size and weight. He is usually fighting opponents that are much bigger and stronger than he is. If you recall his fight with Kimo- Royce took it to Kimo at the start. Kimo was much stronger, much heavier, on roids and much more unpredictable that Matt will be- and Royce dominated standing and took Kimo down. There is nothing Matt will do that will be unpredictable or catch Royce off gaurd. His approach will be very predictable and Royce will be prepared for it. I would also wager that Royce is a much more mature fighter now than he was when he fought Kimo.

Matt does not stand a chance on the ground. It will be a matter of wheather or not Royce can create a ground game.

It is difficult for Royce to function within the constraints of the time limits and rules- and it is true that Matt has many ways he can win and Royce only has one, submission. But even under those conditions I predict Royce will submit Matt- and i will even go so far to say that he will submit him within the first 5 minutes of the fight.

The Gracies have made a career out of people underestimateing them. They are masters at reading a fight before it ever happens... and the the MMA world is playing right into their hands with this one. People become conditioned to what they continually see in the ring and creates their standard for what they understand "good" to be. Royce is just in a completely different class than Matt.

It will be fun to see many get their reality check on this on. My only concern is that when Royce beats Matt that there will be a lot of whining and complaining about it being a "lucky" win or a "fluke".

Anyway, whatever happens, its going to be a great night- and like you i cant wait!

thanks for posting!

Stephen Cawood said...

thanks for the comment.

I don't believe that the 1994 kimo fight helps your argument. remember that that was a time when gracie was fighting tough guys with little or no grappling skill. even then, kimo was able to injure gracie enough that royce was out of the tournament. just think of the difference between the UFC 1, ken shamrock fight and their UFC 5 fight. the two fights were barely 18 months apart, and in that time shamrock acquired enough grappling skill that gracie couldn't submit him in a 36 minute superfight. sure shamrock is 60 lbs heavier, but I would still argue that hughes is from the new MMA breed and he'll be just fine.

I'm a fan of grappling, so I would be happy to see gracie pull out the victory - it would be a great accomplishment for BJJ.

let's hope that it does go to the ground so that all of these questions can be answered. :)

inhimdependent_lds said...

Stephens comment:-------- let's hope that it does go to the ground so that all of these questions can be answered. :) --------

Agreed. My worst fear is that it turns out to be all "hunt-and-peck" stand-up and Matt gets the decision for being aggressive looking- and we get robbed of all those answers you are refering to.

Royces biggest danger are the rules, judges and time limits- not Matt Hughes- (in my opinion). That is really what Royce is up against more than his opponent. Matt Hughes is the better athelete and Royce is the better fighter. Matt may win the "game" but i dont think he can beat the man- Royce. (if you get my meaning) Matt can play the "game" to where he wins the rounds and judges decisions according to the rules but if he comes to really fight Royce- to beat the man he will lose. Hope that makes sense.

What we saw in the Shamrock superfight was not more aquired skill- it was Ken stalling and playing the time limit and rules because he knew he couldnt do anything on the ground against Royce. It is possible that Matt could try and just play defensive and stall like that. But i believe the Gracie camp is aware of this and will be prepared. It will be very difficult for someone Royces own weight to stall successfully for very long.

Anyway, its fun to think about. Cant wait until May!

Stephen Cawood said...

that's interesting that you think that the rules are against gracie. many have suggested in the past that the UFC rules catered to the gracies. you've probably heard those comments. but they were generally refering to the early days.

with regard to your comment about shamrock, I don't think that he was stalling. I think he was trying to ground and pound, but he couldn't get through gracie's guard.

but getting back to the hughes fight... the good news for you and I is that hughes was a wrestler before he was a fighter (as you mentioned). there have been so many times when fighters have gone back to their strengths - even when it wasn't the best strategy. based on that, I could see gracie shooting a few times and hughes eventually just getting out of the stand-up mindset and not fighting the move to the ground. he is so used to fighting on the mat, it's the natural thing for him to do.

inhimdependent_lds said...

That is a good and hopeful point about Hughes possibly reverting back to what hes most comfortable with. If he is serious about wanting to keep it standing as his main strategy it will be interesting to see if the Militech camp can train and prepare Matt in such a way as to override his previous programming tendencies.

Another factor that will play into that is how confident Matt feels he can just man handle Gracie on the ground. Matt has a lot of people telling him that he can just “have his way” with Gracie and that is what many in the MMA community believe. I will also go so far as to say that this is exactly what the Gracie camp wants him to believe. If Matt really believes this in the ring he will be much more likely to take it to the ground. He will also be playing right into Gracies hand.

Stephens comment: ------------------ that's interesting that you think that the rules are against gracie. many have suggested in the past that the UFC rules catered to the gracies. you've probably heard those comments. but they were generally referring to the early days. ------------------

In regard to the rules favoring Gracie in the early days of the UFC that is true if what you really mean is the “lack” of rules favored Gracie. There were no rules back then- and that structure (or lack thereof) does favor Gracie. But today there are a ton of rules. More than most people know and most people greatly underestimate the degree to which it changes things. The Gracie family, camp, system, whatever you wanna call it, is not about MMA as we generally see it today in the UFC. MMA in the UFC is now more of a “sport”- not “ultimate” fighting- if you get my meaning. There is a difference.

The Gracie way is real combat. Two men enter, one man leaves- period. Just as Matt is preprogrammed as a wrestler Royce is preprogrammed as a real fighter. Real fights dont have rules. The rules, time limits etc provide a structure that allows one to “play the game” rather than “beat the man”. It is operating within these constraints that will be Royces biggest challenge and it is these same constraints that will be one of Matts biggest strengths.

Stephens comment: ------------------ with regard to your comment about shamrock, I don't think that he was stalling. I think he was trying to ground and pound, but he couldn't get through gracie's guard. ------------------

If you get a chance go back and watch that fight again. As you do, count the number of times Ken even remotely attempts to get out of Royces guard. He never even tries- not once that i can remember. Ken went for the draw and was hoping for a stroke of luck when they re-stood them up. Which he did in fact get with a great punch to Royces face. That fight is actually a really good example of the effect of time limits. The time limit on that fight actually made the fight go longer than it would have without them. Without time limits that fight would have been over much sooner.

The Militech camp is not dumb. They are smart and at the top of the game when it comes to the current UFC format. I am sure that when Matt steps into the ring they will be putting their best foot forward. It cannot be overstated enough that one of the worst mistakes Matt and his camp can make is to step into the ring overconfident in his ability to dominate Royce on the ground. In an odd sort of way the best approach for Matt to take will be to not use what he is best at and to try to beat Royce with his weaker assets.

Anonymous said...

Hughes is an extremely versatile fighter. His grappling skills are formidable, and what he lacks in skill on the mat he makes up for in pure strength.

Without a doubt, Royce will pull guard. My prediction is that he will not be able to catch Hughes in a submission. If he does, it will come with great difficulty--probably by rear naked choke.

If Hughes can keep it standing or actively stay in Royce's guard without getting subbed, time will run out and it will go to Hughes by decision.

I still hope Royce will be able to pull something out. Hughes is a dick, I hope he gets tapped.

Anonymous said...

Gracie is without a doubt and without any questioning the best fighter to ever be in the UFC. The man keeps training and knows how to fight, he only gets better. Gracie is going to take Hughes to the ground and beat him in the second round. That's final I dont care what anyone says thats how its going to go.

Stephen Cawood said...

Anon... although you didn't back up your assertions with any logical arguments, I admire your enthusiasm. :)

see previous comments for a decent debate.

whatever happens, I hope that it's a good fight.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen much of hughes but it appears he is a well rounded fighter and finds ways to win. I love Gracie but I have to admit his skills have declined over the years. Now he is 39 years old? Even Michael Jordan was not the same player when he came back to the NBA. He occasionally showed flashes of past brilliance but for the most part he couldn't do it every night. I am looking forward to the fight...

inhimdependent_lds said...

Well it looks like you were very right. Apparently a country boy CAN survive!

I was shocked and hated to see it- but that is reality. I was shocked because Matt acctually beat Royce on the ground- bad. Royce just seemed to be one step behind. Time limits and judges decisions played no part in it whatsoever. It was clear and decisive.

The ironic thing is that esentially Matt beat him with Jiujitsu. Perhaps a tell tale sign of UFCs evolution.

I sure wish it could have gone longer though- just so we could have more data to analyize etc.

Hats off to Matt though. He is was the better man that night and definatly a champion. I was actually suprised and impressed with his humility after the fight. He was very respectful. I have to give him credit for that too. A landmark and historic nite for sure.