Sunday, February 18, 2007

Small-town guy is a big-time fighter

By Joe Holleman

"Matt Hughes is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet who could also beat you to death."

That statement — from one of Hughes' best friends — comes razor-close to describing the welterweight star of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Hughes makes his home in Hillsboro, Ill., a small town of 4,200 people about 70 miles northeast of St. Louis.

"I live here because I love it," said Hughes, a 1992 graduate of Hillsboro High. "I grew up here, and I want my kids to grow up here. Here, I'm just Matt Hughes from the west side of Hillsboro. I can cash a check and nobody asks me for I.D."

Hughes, 33, and his wife, Audra, 26, live in a tidy ranch home about one mile from the 600-acre Hughes family farm. They have two children: Joey, 7, and Hanna, 6 months.

Hughes has been competing in the vicious arena of mixed martial arts — once called "no holds barred" fighting — for more than 10 years. He has held a championship belt nine times and has a record of 41-4.

He lost his most recent fight, and the UFC welterweight belt, in November to Georges St. Pierre. Now, he trains during the week in Davenport, Iowa, for a March 3 fight against Chris Lytle in Columbus, Ohio. His goal is an eventual rematch with St. Pierre.

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