Hughes Defeats Gracie At

by Edward Pollard

LOS ANGELES—On May 27, 2006, the Staples Center became the proving ground for a major debate that's brewed in the mixed-martial arts world for years: Has the sport outgrown its roots? Judging by the result of the headlining event between Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder Matt Hughes and founding father Royce Gracie, things have changed dramatically since the days of "no holds barred" competition.

From the moment referee John McCarthy shouted his trademark "Let's get it on!" Hughes began stalking Gracie. At first, the limber Brazilian held him at bay with kicks, but Hughes closed the gap quickly and took the fight to the ground. While it wasn't one of his more dramatic slams, Hughes landed in a good position and achieved side control with ease. At that point, everyone expected Gracie's big reversal, his python-like choke-and-wait game of slow death that shocked fight fans 13 years ago. Instead, the MMA pioneer found himself controlled, even owned, by the Miletich camp's brightest star.

Hughes was stretched out and straining with a textbook straight armbar, while Gracie endured it with no change in his stoic expression. Hughes later said he heard Gracie's elbow pop several times and knew that he wasn't going to tap. So, rather than break his arm and win by stoppage, he worked in his ground-and-pound game. Reversing Gracie's escape attempt and turning it into back control, Hughes put his opponent facedown on the ground, opening almost limitless striking access to his head. McCarthy jumped in and stopped the punishment after four minutes 39 seconds. p The quick defeat won't be the | last we see of Gracie. "I've got a § couple more in me," he declared, Y with a baseball cap half obscuring his § battered face.

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