SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – Matt Hughes may not be a household name, but to the men and women who crammed into the Seay Auditorium at U.S. Transportation Command June 19, he’s as famous as Carlos Newton or Royce Gracie.
If you still have no idea who Hughes, Newton or Gracie are, you’re probably not a fan of the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest Mixed Martial Arts promotion company in the world.
Hughes is the nine-time World Welterweight Champion of the UFC, and he came to USTRANSCOM on the invitation of his hometown (Hillsboro, Ill.) friend Army Capt. Tony Zucca.
“The idea for Hughes to visit was first initiated by Senior Master Sgt. Darryl Dew, the president of the USTRANSCOM Senior Enlisted Group,” Zucca said. “He thought it would be a great morale-building event to tag on to an enlisted call.
“Matt is a huge supporter of the military and enjoys the opportunity to get to mingle with the troops,” Zucca continued. ”Matt isn’t a ‘speaker’ per se, so this is going to be driven primarily by questions focused on resiliency.”
Hughes kept the sports-minded audience enthralled for more than an hour as he answered questions about his life and career in the eight-sided ring, known as the octagon. He began by thanking the military men and women.
“You guys are all saying thanks for me being here, but I have to turn it around and say thanks to you guys,” Hughes said, “because without you guys, I wouldn’t have my freedom and my kids wouldn’t have their freedom, down the road.”
Questions from the audience dealt with specific opponents and fights, dealing with injuries, training, and dealing with fear.
“I think there’s a lot better motivators than fear, to be real honest,” Hughes said. “When I step in the octagon, I wouldn’t say fear is a motivator. I’m not afraid of an opponent hurting me.”
Hughes said he’s more afraid of doing something dumb in front of millions of people on TV.
Hughes also spoke of his competitive philosophy.
“I’m a firm believer in 50-50,” he said. “My sport is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental. If you can beat somebody down mentally, whipping them physically is pretty easy.”
But, Hughes believes something else is responsible for his great success in his sport.
“I grew up with a twin brother and grew up on a farm,” Hughes said. “Those two things are why I’m here. My twin brother taught me competition and the farm taught me work ethic. Without those two, I wouldn’t be a good athlete.”
When an audience member asked Hughes about the importance of the team in his sport Hughes said, “If anybody thinks what I do in the octagon is an individual sport, you’re dead wrong. Number one, I need my teammates to help me prepare.
“In the octagon, my last two wins are credited to my corner men yelling at me,” Hughes continued. “Without instructions from them, I would not have won. Without my corner men telling me what to do, I wouldn’t be able to compete nearly as well as I do.”
Chief Master Sgt. Marty Klukas, USTRANSCOM Senior Enlisted Leader, among many others in the audience, were impressed with Hughes’ session.
“Among the many nuggets I personally got out of his talk,” Klukas said, “I'll never forget this: ‘To every move there's a counter; to every counter there's a counter...there's always a way out.’ Talk about a resilient warrior...it was clear to me the word ‘can't’ is not part of his lexicon.”
Hughes visit ended with an autograph and photo session and nearly the entire audience lined up to share a handshake and clench-fisted pose with a man they consider to be one of their own.