UFC 98 IN-DEPTH: MATT SERRA VS. MATT HUGHES
- UFC 98 IN-DEPTH: MATT SERRA VS. MATT HUGHES
Thursday, May 21, 2009 - by Steven Marrocco - MMAWeekly.com
The grudge match is finally here. On May 23 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, enemies Matt Serra and Matt Hughes will let their fists do the talking and purge 17 months of built up animosity.
Originally scheduled for UFC 79, Serra was forced to withdraw from the bout a month prior with a herniated disc. Replacement killer Georges St. Pierre stepped in to the slot and submitted Hughes in the second round, seizing an interim welterweight belt and forcing the nine-time champ back to the drawing board.
Upon recovering, Serra lost the undisputed title at UFC 83, and Hughes fell further from grace with a TKO loss to Thiago Alves at UFC 85, injuring his knee in the process.
While time and titles have taken some of the luster from the bout, the feelings have not. On a Tuesday teleconference for UFC 98, Serra re-affirmed his feelings for Hughes, and Hughes, putting it mildly, said they were “different people.”
It’s unlikely that next Saturday’s fight will quash any of the bad blood, but the bragging rights will be a lot bigger than a game of bowling.
After years of work in the grinder of Miletich Fighting Systems, Hughes’ has become a proficient striker. Not a great one, but for someone of his background, enough to set up his ground and pound go-to. He throws straighter punches and is more comfortable in the pocket. He mixes stances, recently fighting Thiago Alves as a southpaw. Regardless of which leg leads, though, Hughes’ lead hand defines his striking game. He throws a lunging jab, pecking at opponents before closing the distance. The shots come one or two at a time in short, controlled bursts. He never swings for the fences. Kicks serve as a precursor to an eventual shot. Clinch striking is not his forte, though he does use knees to soften an opponent up before attempting a takedown.
Serra tends to sling himself low and forward on his feet, and similarly uses his jab to minimize his usual reach disadvantage. Once inside, though, he often goes bombs away with power punches. Like Hughes, the shots are often a distraction for the clinch game or a takedown. Still, he lingers in the pocket longer and is willing to throw hands. Serra’s right hand is his moneymaker, and it’s the shot he will commit to fully.
Hughes is wrestling personified. Takedowns, slams, and sheer power on the ground have defined his style. On top, he is one of the best at passing an opponent’s guard and doing damage with punches and elbows. Recently, he’s also showcased a strong game from the bottom, using an active guard to prevent being passed. In losses to St. Pierre and Alves, he’s finally encountered opponents who exceeded his wrestling ability, but he continues to follow the same blueprint for each fight: take an opponent down and work for a TKO stoppage from top position.
Serra’s defining feature is his jiu-jitsu. A Renzo Gracie black belt, his ground attack is rooted in his bottom game, particularly the control of opponents. He ties opponents up from the bottom and inches towards submissions. On top, he doesn’t pour on the ground and pound, preferring to play the position game. And as of late, he’s played a very patient game, happy to slow the action down until a submission attempt or scramble is wide open.
Serra is more tactician than brawler. Not overly aggressive, he measures offense and defense equally, waiting for the right moment to strike. Because he often waits for the action to start rather than initiating, he finds himself countering aggressive fighters. On the other hand, he is more than happy to storm in with a Superman punch to grab a single leg and take the fight down after an opponent has been felt out.
Hughes’ motives are simple: take the fighter down and control him. Every movement is geared towards that goal. More than past fights, he is willing to stand and trade before the drive to the ground. But the end is still the same. He bides his time on the feet before going to the mat.
A relentless worker, Hughes applied his work ethic on the family farm to MMA. He’s got “farm boy” strength, and won’t stop unless hurt. He works tirelessly on his conditioning and since becoming a UFC staple, has never been accused of conditioning problems.
Serra has bounced between the lightweight and welterweight classes, and with his smaller frame, is a natural fit for 155 pounds. Undersized in his recent bouts at welterweight, Serra has been stopped before conditioning could become a factor. Since his return to the UFC via TUF 4, he has not been tested by a consistently high-paced fight. He can sit in guard or drive for takedowns, fighting at his pace, but fighters who push the action wear him down, the last example being Karo Parisyan at UFC 53.
THE “X” FACTOR
In all likelihood, the fight hinges on whether or not Serra can damage Hughes before he gets taken d