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UFC notebook: Matt Hughes retires; Dana White talks Rampage’s farewell

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Jeff Chiu / AP

Matt Hughes celebrates after submitting Ricardo Almeida in the first round at UFC 117 on August 7, 2010 in Oakland, Calif.

CHICAGO — Two years after the Fertitta brothers purchased the UFC, and still two years before the promotion would show its first signs of success, Dana White remembers an in-depth conversation he shared with Matt Hughes.

White, UFC President, had just watched his welterweight champion, Hughes, defend his belt for the fourth consecutive time in a unanimous-decision win over Sean Sherk at UFC 42 in Miami. White took a walk down the beach with Hughes and shared his long-term vision for the UFC.

“I’m telling him this is the plan, this is what I’m going to do and this is what this thing is going to turn into,” White recalled. “I walked him right through everything and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m sold. I’m with you. We either make it or we don’t.’”

The UFC made it, and Hughes kept his promise. The 39-year old officially announced his retirement before the UFC on Fox 6 press conference Thursday at the United Center, but also revealed a new position with the organization he helped shape.

Hughes will work as the vice president of athlete development and government relations for the UFC. He’ll act as a mentor to the approximately 400 fighters on the UFC roster and assist in implementing the promotion’s new conduct policy.

“It’s funny the road God puts you on,” Hughes said. “You just don’t know where you’re going to end up. What started out as a hobby brought me to the UFC and here in front of you now. I love this sport and a new position is the best way for me to stay in it moving forward. I look forward to using my experience and providing my perspective for both the UFC and the fighters.”

Hughes retires with a record 18 wins in the UFC. His overall record reads 45-9 in mixed martial arts and 18-6 in the UFC. He’s tied with Georges St. Pierre for most welterweight title defenses with seven and leads the weight class all-time with 12 title fights.

No guarantees for Anthony Pettis or Donald Cerrone

White has twice anointed Anthony Pettis as the top contender in the UFC’s lightweight division — when he crossed over as the final WEC champion and after knocking out Joe Lauzon with a head kick at UFC 144.

Neither time did Pettis wind up receiving his shot at the championship belt. Even if Pettis defeats Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Saturday in his first fight back from shoulder surgery, White isn’t sure he’ll make the promise a third time.

White would only offer his patented “we’ll see what happens” line when pressed for plans for the lightweight division Thursday. Both Pettis and Cerrone are ranked among the top five 155-pound fighters in the world.

Pettis is trying to avoid the title talk after a long layoff, but is still hopeful his chance is coming.

“I wanted to be the No. 1 contender,” Pettis said. “I wanted to keep that spot. Being off a whole year, I couldn’t really defend it. These guys are getting better, getting wins and I’m stuck on the sidelines watching. That’s hard.”

White weighs in on “Rampage” Jackson

White’s face turned red when a reporter first asked Quinton “Rampage” Jackson a question at Thursday’s press conference.

Jackson wasn’t paying attention, burying his head in a PlayStation Vita game on the podium, and gave a disinterested answer.

“To come up here today and treat the media the way he did, it was just unprofessional,” White said.

Since Jackson publicly announced he would not return to the UFC, White has not spoken with the former light heavyweight champion. But he did question Jackson’s displeasure to reporters, claiming the UFC had paid Rampage $15.2 million in the past five years.

White warned that “the grass isn’t always greener” with Jackson’s plan to try professional boxing.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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