Working his way up the ranks, the Illinois farm boy, so smartly managed by
By the time Hughes settled down with the Zuffa-promoted UFC, he was a veteran training with
To be the UFC champ, a generation of welterweight contenders knew, you'd have to defeat Hughes. Very few could -- until recently. Hughes' downturn continued Saturday in London, where he fell for the third time in four fights.
Standing southpaw for a better angle to attack takedowns on
Alves stood. Again, Hughes' shot was easily denied.
This was the game Alves' corner asked for. Sprawl, push away and strike. Maybe even get on top and do to Hughes what he's done to opponents for a decade: wreck 'em with punches and elbows from the top.
Against similar foes with strong striking, Hughes was dominant. Takedowns always came. Pressure eventually worked through whatever defense was separating Hughes from the end of the fight. But against
Three out of Hughes' four first-round takedown attempts were rebuffed. And even when the American (42-7) was successful, the 24-year-old Alves (15-3) calmly worked from the bottom and never took a significant shot to his face. The same could not be said for Hughes, who soon wore a star-shaped cut on the bridge of his nose to accessorize welts around his eyes.
Hughes, however, was no stranger to adversity.
Against Alves, there was no miraculous comeback. The Brazilian concaved Hughes' chest with a flying knee, smearing a mask of red across the veteran's eyes. Another jumping knee, this one more to the chin, felled the former champion to the canvas, where he took a stiff right to the jaw before referee
Two decisive losses in a row leaves Hughes in a tenuous position.
A couple of wins could have sold the public that he stood a chance against
One would hope Hughes learned from the UFC departure of his mentor,
That leaves the 34-year-old crop farmer's last bout -- he guaranteed at least one more -- the likely grudge match against New Yorker
"My wife wants it, I want it, and I know these fans want it too," Hughes said while looking into the packed O2 Arena crowd after losing Saturday.
Rivals, the welterweights were featured as coaches on the sixth season of Spike TV's
There won't be a better time to make the fight, and Hughes said he was promised -- win or lose against Alves -- Serra would be next.
Could he parlay a win over Serra into something more, back into a space where Hughes is competitive with Alves, St. Pierre and, if he makes the 15-pound jump,
Leading up to the Alves bout, Hughes said he increased his training regimen from two to three times a day, placing a heavy emphasis on cardio. But the additional training didn't yield additional sparring. Since Hughes left Miletich and crew in Bettendorf, Iowa, his timing has been off. A shift in focus from hitting the mitts to grinding out hard rounds in the gym might be the thing that kickstarts Hughes. Look at Serra, who knocked out St. Pierre after 80 rounds of sparring under the watchful eye of
Hughes knows what's best for him, and if he truly is pouring every ounce of his energy into preparing for fights, then he knows he can't compete at the sport's highest levels anymore. The young generation he inspired with his dominance has come to get theirs.
Of Hughes, Alves said, "He's a legend."
A legend whose tale is near its conclusion.