by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Matt Hughes has never been a fighter searching for a rivalry to boost his career.

Widely considered one of the greatest champions in UFC history, Hughes has fought the best of the best over time, and simply says ‘yes’ to a fight when Joe Silva or UFC president Dana White give him a call.

If you started to look deeper, however, it would appear on paper that Hughes has taken over Kazushi Sakuraba’s role as the Gracie family’s greatest antagonist. The Illinois based fighter has picked up two wins over the Gracie family directly with victories over Renzo and Royce, and also has a win over Renzo Gracie black belt Matt Serra.

Hughes will go for the trifecta of the Renzo Gracie system when he faces another of Renzo’s black belts in Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117, but he’s not looking at this fight as another victory over the legendary MMA family. Although he does know that Almeida has to see this fight as a proving point for past events.

“I think Ricardo will be hungry for this fight. I’ve beaten two Gracies and a teammate and, back about 10 years ago, I beat Ricardo himself in a grappling match in Abu Dhabi. So on one hand he’s got a lot of motivation and on the other he sees what I just listed and knows I’m a threat,” Hughes wrote about the fight on his website.

The 37-year-old former welterweight champion has won his last two fights, with his only recent losses coming to current 170-pound king Georges St-Pierre and top-five-ranked fighter Thiago Alves. Outside of those fights, Hughes has still been a viable contender in the division, although so many try to write him off.

As one of the oldest competitors currently in the UFC, Hughes doesn’t really think about age as a sign that he’s getting too old to do this, or that he even needs to worry about that. It’s about the fight and as long as he’s competing, age is simply a number.

“I guess I’m just glad I’ve been able to have as long of a career as I have,” Hughes said about fighting well into his 30’s. “So many other people out there who have fought in the UFC wouldn’t even think of fighting as long as I have. So I guess I look at it as a privilege.”

Hughes has been getting ready for his fight with Almeida with his regular cast of characters at his home gym at the HIT Squad, and has also traveled out to Utah to work with longtime friend Jeremy Horn and his team. The preparation seems to be in place, and Hughes is poised once again for a chance to get a big win, on the biggest stage.

“Had some tough workouts at my gym and also went out to Salt Lake City and got to train with Jeremy, his guys, and Matt Pena,” Hughes stated. “My three corners for this fight will be Robbie Lawler, Matt Pena and Jeremy Horn. I really feel that my cornermen are the best in the business.”

As one of the true pioneers of the UFC, Hughes will keep fighting the best he can get his hands on, and continue to prove he’s more than just a former champion holding on to past glory. He’s a contender that still threatens any fighter that steps in the Octagon with him.