Thursday, May 21, 2009 | midnight
Matt Serra and Matt Hughes share the same first name, but that's about it.
The two rivals are about as similar as black and white, a well-known fact that was shown once again Wednesday during a workout showcasing the fighters participating in UFC 98.
The outgoing Serra showed up early, answered questions and joked around with those in attendance. Hughes disappeared before his time slot and didn't return.
"I don't go out of my way to be a smack talker, you can ask me about anyone and I'll give you my honest opinion," said Serra, a New York native. "I just don't like the guy. I'm used to fighting nice guys, it's really hard to find a guy that's not cool, everybody is pretty down to earth. I've been in the UFC since 2001 and I get along with everybody.
"This is the first time going into a fight where it's personal. I just can't stand that guy."
After a previous fight between the two was canceled when Serra suffered a back injury leading up to UFC 79 in 2007, it will finally be time to take sides when the two meet each other in the octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday.
Those in Serra's corner are hoping the underdog can do the same thing he did to Georges St. Pierre in 2007, when he knocked out the heavily favored GSP for the UFC welterweight championship.
Although the win elevated Serra to a champion, he still feels he has rarely received enough credit for his career.
"When I beat GSP it's not like I was getting my butt handed to me and I just closed my eyes and landed a punch," Serra said.
"If I beat Hughes they'll say he was done before our fight. There's always going to be those guys that play up the negative part of it, I don't pay too much attention to that."
It's hard to imagine anything his critics could say that would ruin a victory over Hughes, who Serra said is: "The only person I want to fight right now."
The fight carries the potential of being the last time the mixed martial arts world will have a chance to see Hughes, a future Hall of Famer. Saturday is the last fight on Hughes's contract and the 34-year-old has lost three of his last four fights.
He also suffered what was initially considered a severe injury to his left knee in his last fight, but avoided undergoing surgery.
Hughes said he’s completely recovered from the injury, however, and the losses don't indicate a decline in his performance considering the opponents. Two came at the hands of welterweight champ St. Pierre and the other to Thiago Alves, arguably the top two fighters in the welterweight division.
"No matter what I think about Matt Hughes, and it's not much, he's a dangerous opponent," Serra said.
"He's a guy who has done a lot in this sport. I'm not taking him lightly. I'm not just looking at it like they knocked him out so I'll knock him out. I've done my homework and I'm coming off of three months of hardcore training."
Hughes’ recent record hasn't appeared to affect his confidence, an attribute he's known for having an unlimited supply of. Whether that's a bad thing or not, it's that smug attitude that Serra says is at the heart of his dislike for Hughes.
A fact that he hopes might work to his advantage during the fight.
"I think the biggest thing is that it's important to have confidence coming into a fight but I think his ego will be his downfall," Serra said.
"I'm coming and expecting a good fight, I know he's dangerous. I think he really feels that I don't belong in the same arena as him let alone the same cage as him. When he finds out he's wrong and the fights not going his way, it will be too late."
There's a promotional video for the fight Serra has seen in which Hughes's trainer Marc Fiore claims that Serra has gotten himself into trouble by taking this fight. Anyone thinking the stakes have lowered in this matchup, considering at one time it was built to be a main event with a title on the line, need only to hear Serra's response.
"Dude, you are smoking crack on that farm of yours if you think there is anywhere else I want to be on May 23 than across the cage from Matt Hughes."