Hughes chose Penn fight over rest

BJ Penn (pictured) will face Matt Hughes for the third time in his career. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

BJ Penn (pictured) will face Matt Hughes for the third time in his career. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:48 PM ET

After fighting twice this year, UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes was looking forward to a little down time this fall.

You know, spend some time with his family, do a little hunting. Things he normally wouldn't have time to do while training full-bore for a fight.

Then UFC president Dana White made an offer Hughes couldn't refuse -- the chance to fight BJ Penn and write the final chapter of the trilogy. With that one phone call, plans changed.

"I was definitely going to take a break," Hughes said. "I'd spent the whole year, to me, fighting and away from my family. I wanted some family time and, of course, the fall is hunting time so I was wanting to hunt as well.

"When (White) comes with the name BJ, I kinda felt I needed to take the fight.

"We're split 1-1 and we finally get to have this third match. We both wanted it and we finally get to get it so we're both happy with that."

Hughes-Penn III, the co-main event for UFC 123 Nov. 20 in Auburn Hills, Mich., is the rubber match. Hughes lost his first meeting with Penn by submission at UFC 46 in 2004 then evened the score with a third-round TKO win at UFC 63 in '06.

After back-to-back losses to Frankie Edgar this year, both by decision, Penn just wanted to fight again. The chance to face Hughes again simply added to the intrigue.

"Coming off two losses I probably would have accepted anyone Dana offered me," Penn said. "In offering Matt, he kind of offered me a gift. I always hoped me and Matt would do it again." Now in the twilight of his career but coming off three straight wins, 37-year-old Hughes seems highly motivated to extend Penn's recent struggles in the octagon.

A second loss to Penn, who is returning to the welterweight division for the first time since being stopped by Georges St. Pierre in 2009, doesn't sound all that appealing to Hughes. And a win could solidify his MMA legacy.

"The way I feel is if I lose this fight with BJ, it's like losing three fights," the two-time UFC welterweight champ said. "But if I win this fight, it's like winning three fights. It's the finale of the trilogy. There's a lot on the line. Three fights are on the line for this 15 minutes BJ and I are going to do battle.

"BJ beat me so easy the first time and the second match was really a tough match for both of us. He was whipping me early in the fight and I ended up finishing late in the fight. There's a lot to be said with this last match." Although Hughes hasn't been a serious contender for the welterweight title for a couple of years and many consider him past his prime, he is coming off wins over Matt Serra in 2009 and Renzo Gracie and Ricardo Almeida this year.

At UFC 117 in August, he choked out Almeira to win submission of the night.

A new approach to fighting seems to be at the root of Hughes' resurgence.

He's avoiding putting pressure on himself, not always the easiest task in the fight game. Changing up his training camp routine, being around "more positive people" and getting plenty of support from his wife has been the key to doing that, he says.

Instead, he's focusing on having fun and enjoying the competition, rather than worrying about the outcome.

"I'm kinda concentrating on having a good time," he said. "I'm kinda at the point now where it's whatever they offer. If Dana comes to me and says, 'Hey, we want you to take a run at the title,' that's fine. The way I see it, I'm set.

"I've never been a guy to chase the record books. I really don't care to hold any more records. I'm just really to go out and have a good time and to compete. I still love to compete."


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