Sunday, May 24, 2009 | 6 a.m.
The hatchet might not be completely buried privately but on Saturday night it was at least squashed publically as bitter rivals Matt Hughes and Matt Serra actually hugged inside the Octagon at UFC 98.
There were no fireworks to end one of the biggest grudge matches in UFC history, simply some strong groundwork, tough wrestling technique, and a little early luck surviving a staggering blow on the part of Hughes, who recorded a narrow 29-28 unanimous decision victory in front of 12,606 fans in attendance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The biggest surprise had to actually be the multiple handshakes, pats on the back, and kind words the two Matts shared were each other afterwards.
“To be honest, I can't even remember what it was," Hughes said of the two’s conversation in the cage.
"I think Matt said something like whatever the decision is, let's squash this, and I think I just agreed."
That was a far cry from the incessant trash talk and venomous verbal barbs that have been lobbed over the years and peaked on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season No. 6 when the two were originally supposed to fight.
“As a fighter, regardless of what I thought about him personally, I always kept him in high regard," Serra said. "He's a hall of famer.”
But Serra admitted the loss was cringing considering not only how close the score was, but that “The Terror” actually had the nine-time champ wobbling in the first round.
“I wanted to keep my cool and try to finish him off. But he’s got a good chin. He hung in there. "I just really wanted this win, I trained really hard for it, I'm a little upset right now,” said Serra, whose record dropped to 16-6.
“I knew it was close. I knew I won the first round and he won the second round. I thought I squeezed it out in the third, but it was close.”
Hughes (44-7), who said he didn’t know what hit him when an accidental head butt nearly ended the match in the early going, agreed that the bout that earned “Fight of the Night” honors was a good show for the fans.
“I thought I had it, but I’m sure Matt thought the same thing,” he said. “I thought I lost the first round and won the second. (After) the second round the majority was definitely on my side. I thought the third round was maybe a little closer, but was still mine.
“It went kind of like I thought it was.”
While the bout was the last on Hughes’ UFC contract and rumors earlier this weekend made it seem that win or lose, the fight might be Hughes’ last, the former welterweight champ quickly closed the retirement window afterwards.
“I definitely want to continue to fight,” the 35-year-old Hughes said. “I think I’m still competitive in the weight division.”
Hughes said he and UFC president Dana White would sit down and talk soon about his future plans, which also depend on what happens between George St. Pierre and Thiago Alves in their title fight at UFC 100.
Setbacks to St. Pierre and Alves are the only blemishes on Hughes record in five years.
“We'll see what goes on. I'd love to fight one more time in my home area," the Illinois farm boy said.
Andy Samuelson can be reached at email@example.com or 702-948-7837.