Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chainsaws, Humility and Going Soft: An Interview with Matt Hughes

Matt Hughes is a nine-time UFC champion and a member of the UFC Hall of Fame. He’s fond of chainsaws and guns. He drives tractors. Matt Hughes is a man’s man.

But Matt also professes faith in Jesus Christ, loves his wife and takes the initiative in leading his family. Again, Matt Hughes is a man’s man.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with Matt about his career, manhood and the daily fight against pride.

Matt, you’ve experienced a lot of success in the octagon. How have you managed to stay humble through this?

You know, I can’t sit here and tell you that I’m a humble person. Things do go to your head. It’s become a lot easier the older I get. But, you know, seven years ago I wasn’t that old, I was the champion, everything was going good for me and I did keep people around that helped me out. But I think what really kept me grounded more than anything was the fact that I really liked who I was before I became the world champion. So after I won the title I actually took my belt and put it under my bed. I didn’t want to sit and look at it because I knew it was going to change me and I just decided I liked who I was before and I’m going to stay that person. To be honest, it’s a daily battle not to be a bigger person than you are.

So it sounds like your identity is not wrapped up in the belt. Do you think that makes it easier for you to walk away from the sport when the time comes? A lot of athletes, things don’t end well for them. Does finding your identity in Christ make it easier for you when it comes time to hang it up?

Definitely. I don’t want to give it up [competition] because I love to compete. Christ just puts other things on your heart and you’ve got other identities besides that so I’ve just got to open my eyes and realize what’s the greater good here.

But there are other things you’re known for. Of course there’s your fighting career but then there’s hunting and farming. A lot of guys are in to these things. Is there a common link between fighting, hunting and farming and how do they relate to masculinity, something that seems to be going out of style in recent years?

Fighting and hunting relate directly. Farming is a manly duty as well. Manly people are going out of style. It seems like as this world gets older and older people get lazier and lazier. You just don’t see people doing manual labor like we used to. We’re creating machines to make life easy. That easy lifestyle has made us lazy and turned us soft. I’m kind of a man’s man because I use a gun, I use a chainsaw, I split wood, I use knives. So all those things put me high on the man list. Even if you don’t use a chainsaw but you own a chainsaw that puts you a couple of points higher on the man list.

I hope that doesn’t get you put on a terrorist watch list.

I think anybody who knows Matt Hughes knows I’ve got a whole boatload of guns.

Matt, you also have a wife and kids. Talk about that aspect of manhood.

The man is the person who should end up making all the decisions. In the end, it all comes down to the man. If something fails, it comes down to him, not to somebody else. I’m very blessed in that I have a good wife who makes very good decisions so I let her make decisions. I really trust her judgment. I try to be the man of the house but I do try and let my wife be the woman and make those good decisions she’s known for.

I became a Christian seven years ago, got married seven years ago and right after that watched my baby girl get pulled out of my wife’s stomach. With those three things, it’s definitely softened me up.

In my house, my wife is Old Testament. She’s strict and lays on the thunder. I’m New Testament and all about forgiveness. I’ve really turned into a softy here lately, in the last four or five years.

Your second fight against Frank Trigg, in my opinion, was one of the greatest moments in the history of the sport. Is that kind of drive and determination something that all men have or is it just reserved for elite athletes?

It’s very, very hard to get that mental aspect into somebody. Either you’re born with it or you’re not. In my sport, I think it’s fifty-fifty. It’s fifty percent mental and fifty percent physical. If I can break my opponent mentally, the physical will soon follow. I’ve always been a strong minded person and I think that’s what won that fight for me was the fact that I wasn’t going to give up where a lot of other people might have. But I do not know how to coach that into somebody. You’re either born with it or you’re not.

You’ve implied before that you would like to have a chance to coach Georges St. Pierre. If you had that shot, what different approaches would you take that maybe he’s not already getting?

With GSP, I would say he needs no help in the technical aspect of things. He’s great with his takedowns, his striking and even his submission knowledge has come along quite a bit. I would love to help him more on the mental side of things. It would be a simple thing. I don’t think there’s been one fight that hasn’t gone the distance. I think GSP has so much talent that he can finish those fights. I would like to see him go with the mindset that no matter what’s going on I’m going to keep pouring it to my opponent and break him. That’s the only thing he lacks in being one of the greatest is the fact that he doesn’t finish a whole lot of people.

Thanks to Matt Hughes for taking the time to talk over the phone today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go out and buy a chainsaw.

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