Matt Hughes, Frank Trigg and Bas Rutten, along with Lori Blatnick, the wife of the late Jeff Blatnick, spoke about the changes in the sport, PED usage, and who should go into the Hall of Fame next.
Matt Hughes, who will become the first person inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame a second time this weekend, and now works for the company in fighter relations, brought up a financial aspect of drug testing and fighters paychecks on Monday.
“I just had a fighters summit in Vegas and I told the fighters, the next time you get to the table and want a bigger payday, I want to remind you the cheaters have cost the UFC and you million (for the new testing program went into effect on July 1),” he said. “That’s million that will not be going to the fighters because of those cheaters. The reason we have these new rules are that people aren’t playing by the rules in the first place.”
Hughes started in the sport in 1998 and started with UFC a year later. He had a career that saw him win the welterweight championship twice. He made the comments on a press call to promote UFC’s 2015 Hall of Fame inductions this coming Saturday, hours before UFC 189.
Hughes was on the call with fellow 2015 inductees Frank Trigg and Bas Rutten, as well as Lori Blatnick, the wife of the another inductee, the late Jeff Blatnick. B.J. Penn, who is also being inducted, was not on the call.
Hughes was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a fighter in 2010. On Saturday, the April 16, 2005, welterweight title fight with Hughes vs. Trigg is being inducted Saturday in the legendary fight category. In a sense, you could argue he is the second, because while Forrest Griffin was inducted only once, he is considered a Hall of Famer both as a fighter and for his April 9, 2005, fight with Stephan Bonnar in the finale of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. The irony is that even though UFC ran far fewer events, its first two Hall of Fame fights took place within a week of each other.
The subject of PEDs, and its role in the sport, past and present, was a key topic of discussion, particularly when a question was asked about the history of the sport and people who are considered all-time greats that perhaps shouldn’t be because part of their success was built on PED usage.
While nobody would name fighters in specific, when asked, with a comparison made to the Mark McGwire/Barry Bonds era in baseball, they all agreed there are those who would fit the bill.
“I think there were people in my era who people think are great who were cheating,” he said. “We did have drug testing, but I don’t think the drugs were as prevalent as they are now, and there aren’t the ways to get around the testing like nowadays.”
On the flip side, testing in many cases was nonexistent in that era. Even when done, it was in its infancy. For years, unless you fought in a few selected locations, like Las Vegas, there would be no PED testing at all. Before 2002, there were no penalties for usage of PEDs at all. Even when testing was done, it was only on the day of the fight, making it ridiculously easy to beat. And in many ways, if there was a pioneer era before regulation, and a modern era after, this coming Saturday, the first show since UFC contracted with USADA to handle significant drug testing, will be the first show of a third era.
Trigg feels the percentage of fighters using during their heyday was extremely high.
Trigg also brought up Jeff Blatnick, who won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics before becoming an important figure in the early days of UFC, including naming the sport mixed martial arts and writing its first rulebook. He noted Blatnick won his medal beating a guy who was cheating.
“We always knew the other governments were supporting the guys,” said Trigg, whose UFC career was best known for that second fight with Hughes, the highlights of which get played as part of a video montage during nearly every UFC live event. “We got tested all the time (during his days as an Olympic hopeful in wrestling, before MMA). It was always random, and guys got caught pretty frequently. In my era of fighting, it’s rumored that 50 to 90 percent of the guys were on something. A lot of great guys were doing PEDs. The reality is in that era that testing was in place, but it wasn’t focused on like now. Starting on July 1st, it’s now a reality. Look at Gilbert Melendez, guys you’d never think of, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones had problems with drugs one way or the other. The reality is there were people you’d never think about before when there wasn’t as much testing. We wrestled guys on drugs all the time.”
The UFC will also induct Rutten in the pioneer era, which is for fighters whose careers began before the unified rules were put in place in 2000. Penn will be inducted for the modern era, for those who stated their careers after 2000 but are at least 35 years old. Older active fighters are eligible. Blatnick will be put in as a contributor to the sport and Hughes vs. Trigg as a stand-alone fight. In UFC’s quest to make the Hall of Fame more legitimate, they have broken it down into categories and there will be one person or fight honored annually in each category for the next few years. The fight category also allows the company to make historical sense out of its induction of Bonnar, who was never a champion or top contender, but whose fight with Griffin could be argued was the most important fight in UFC history, and was also among its most exciting.
The induction ceremony will take place at the UFC Fan Expo, at 11 a.m. Pacific time at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. It will also be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass.
“It’s a hard one,” said Rutten, when asked who he thought should go in next. “Frank Shamrock, Don Frye, those two pop up for the pioneer section. Modern era, I think they should have stopped fighting. I’m shooting a blank on that one.”
“As far as a pioneer, because he had so much to do with setting up the rules, John McCarthy at some point,” said Trigg. “I think a fighter should be retired. We shouldn’t have people in the Hall of Fame who are still competing. McCarthy is still a referee. Why Don Frye and Frank Shamrock aren’t in, that doesn’t make sense to me. Those were the guys I looked up to when I was starting.”
“I definitely agree with Frank and John for sure,” said Blatnick.
The UFC rules allow for fighters to be put in the Hall of Fame as long as they are past 35 years old. An issue with retiring is that many fighters in the Hall of Fame, such as Tito Ortiz, Bonnar, Ken Shamrock and Randy Couture at one point announced their retirements, and then came back.
“I do think a modern fighter should be retired,” said Hughes, drawing from personal experience. “It put a lot of pressure on me when they put me in in 2010 when I still had fights to go. So that’s how I’m going to answer it.”
The Hughes-Trigg fight was a rematch of a championship fight two years earlier that Hughes won via choke. There was a lot of bad blood going into the rematch. Hughes looked down and out after an accidental low blow, and was caught in a choke. Suddenly, like a scene from a movie, Hughes escaped the choke, picked Trigg up, ran across the Octagon and slammed him, and quickly finished with a choke.
For Hughes, this was just one of many fights in his career. He considers his biggest win as his second match with Penn, in 2006, where he avenged a 2004 loss,. At the time the two were considered as among the most talented pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
For Trigg, it’s a the second fight is something he can never escape, and considers a life changing moment in time. It already was the lasting memory of his career, and wit this honor, it will only become even more legendary.
“I don’t think about it until somebody brings it up, which is every day,” he said.
He noted whenever he meets people in his different walks of life, even when he’s doing stunt man work and meets actors, invariably someone will come up to him and ask about that fight.
“If I finish that choke or I knock him out, I’m a millionaire,” he said. Trigg believed that if he won the fight, he’d have retained the title several times, probably until the Georges St-Pierre era.
“My confidence increases,” he said. “My ego is bigger. I wouldn’t be the great champion Matt was, but I’d be pretty damn close. I went left. I didn’t go right. That’s how it is. It’s a part of history.”
Before the main card starts at almost every UFC event, unless there is a timing issue, there is a music video to the 1971 classic song Baba O’Riley by The Who, featuring a montage of the biggest stars and moments in UFC history. No matter how many clips and changed or added over the years, the slam and the Hughes celebration with his corner after the win always come cross as a highlight moment to almost every crowd.
“I don’t really watch any of my fights,” said Hughes. “I do like that soundtrack. That’s my favorite clip to watch, the only one I watch.”
Hughes says when it comes on the screen at the show, he watches it, but doesn’t focus so much on the running slam, but more on the faces of his cornermen, when he is running across the Octagon carrying Trigg.
“I’ve been in corners when the fighters lost,” said Hughes. “It’s hard when you’re in a corner and your guys is beat up and losing. They thought that I was going to lose and the fight was over. When I dumped him, it’s right in front of my corner. I watch that clip and I love that clip but I’m not watching me, I’m watching the four cornermen.”
“I leave the arena when that clip comes out,” Trigg joked. “I can’t even stand the song when it comes on the radio station. You’ll always catch me by the bar when that comes on.”
Both recognize that they were linked from the fight, and the link is going to be even stronger historically due to the induction. While Hughes said the animosity a decade ago was very real, it’s long gone today.
“Frank and I cross paths all the time when I’m in Las Vegas,” said Hughes. “We’re definitely friendly now. We’ve definitely matured. I know I’m retired. Frank is retired. We’ve got nothing to fight for. But it was very real back in the day. We were different then.”
“You’ve got to remember that he’s a Midwestern farmer, he hunts and fishes, and I’m an East Coast kid,” said Trigg. “We had two different mindsets. We were both super competitive, both super alpha males. We pushed each others buttons and tried to sell fights.”
Trigg noted there is also a different in the impact of fights and the time given to promote them was very different when the schedule wasn’t like it is now.
“Our feud lived up to the fight,” said Trigg. “We were rivals, and that’s what athletes are. It’s been ten years.”
Rutten noted that when he first heard about the UFC, shortly after it started in late 1993, it was something he didn’t want to be part of.
Rutten was a kickboxer who was signed by Pancrase in Japan, which started a form of MMA with a different rule set in 1993, just before UFC started. Ken Shamrock, who fought in Pancrase, was in the first UFC tournament.
“I didn’t think it was a healthy thing,” said Rutten about the original UFC. “I didn’t think it was a smart thing to do, when we saw (Gerard) Gordeau kicking the guy’s teeth out and no referee was allowed to stop the fight. I talked to Ken Shamrock in the dressing room when we fought on the same card. I wouldn’t do it. A lot of these crazy guys who will knock you out and then feel the need to hit you five more times after you’re knocked out. Those punches can ruin your life. If there’s a referee there, that’s a different story.”
That era of UFC ended quickly, as McCarthy, who started refereeing at the second UFC event, then told the organizers after that show that people that the results would be catastrophic if the referee wasn’t given the power to stop the fights. He insisted on it or he wouldn’t come back. He was persuasive enough that the rule was immediately changed.
Rutten only fought in UFC twice, but was heavyweight champion when he retired due to a number of injuries (although he came back once years later for a different promotion), Rutten is being inducted primarily for his Pancrase career, where he was one of the biggest stars of the 90s. Now more well known for being a commentator, a TV show host, an actor and for commercial endorsements, Rutten had nothing but good things to say about his experience in UFC before the Zuffa era.
“I had a great time,” he said. “Those guys (Semaphore Entertainment Group) were awesome. Anybody who puts you on the poster calling you “the world’s greatest marital artist,” they pushed me so much. I had a great time, no problem at all.”
Because he had only fought twice in UFC, he was shocked about his induction. The Rutten induction was to specifically show that they are going to honor entire careers. The idea is to make it a Hall of Fame for the sport itself. But there’s also a marketing reason. Rutten’s career was mostly with Pancrase, and UFC has purchased the rights to the Pancrase tape library, so in a sense, owns its visual history.
Rutten said he never expected to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame as a fighter, but did think that he could get in at some point.
“Maybe in ten years, because of the contributions I’ve made to MMA in general, commentary, not only in the UFC, I thought maybe that would get me in. That was my hope. I didn’t expect it at all now.
“A buddy told me that there are only nine guys in the Hall of Fame (actually there were 12 before this class gets inducted),” said Rutten. That’s so cool once you realize that. It’s really cool.”
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