As the heavyweight division continues to search for contenders, Ohio native Jeff Hughes is ready to inject some new life in the weight class with his UFC debut this weekend.
With a 10-1 record including a brutal first round finish on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series that earned him a contract, Hughes has been anxiously awaiting his opportunity to prove he belongs amongst the elite heavyweights in the sport.
In many ways, Hughes has known he was ready for quite some time now thanks to the countless hours he’s spent on the mats and in the cage with former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, who he counts as one of his closest friends and top training partner in the gym.
“He pushes me every single day that we train,” Hughes told MMAWeekly when speaking about his work with Miocic. “For this camp, it’s been almost every single day we’re doing something. This camp, he’s been a really big help because he’s not getting ready for a fight so he’s concentrating on me. He’s shown me so many little tricks and he pushes me everyday.
“The reason I’m at Strong Style is because of Stipe. It just so happens that we have the best coaches in the world, too.”
Known for his ferocity inside the cage and a blue collar attitude outside, Miocic has never been an egotistical fighter who pats himself on the back for his accomplishments much less taking credit for his teammates’ success.
Still, Hughes pays homage to Miocic because he’s been an integral part of the career he’s built as a professional fighter including the extra instruction he’s received from the former champion in the lead up to his Octagon debut.
“He’s almost been an extra coach. His fight IQ is through the roof. Everything he shows me, there’s a benefit to it,” Hughes said about Miocic. “He’s very loyal. So if he considers you a teammate, you are a very good friend. I’m also there to help him whenever he needs it.
“We’ve done some crazy things and it’s really helped me develop as a fighter watching him get ready for fights. I know that if he does it, I have to do it, too, I have to try and keep up.”
Hughes has known about the date of his debut fight for quite some time but in true ‘welcome to the UFC’ fashion, he got a change of opponents just a couple of weeks ago.
Instead of facing Daniel Spitz at the UFC Fight Night card in Wichita, Hughes now faces former ‘Ultimate Fighter’ contender Maurice Greene.
Now Hughes didn’t even blink when his opponents changed despite the fact that he actually fought and defeated Hughes 11 months ago when they were competing against each other in Legacy Fighting Alliance.
It’s unusual for that kind of a rematch to come together so soon after the initial fight but Hughes knows he can’t discount Greene or he’ll pay when they meet again on Saturday night.
“My reaction was like anything else, it’s like we’re doing this again. I’m just excited to make my UFC debut. It’s against a guy I already fought before but it’s cool,” Hughes said.
“We’re in the division where you’re one punch away from losing the fight. I respect his game and his abilities. I think this is actually the tougher fight.”
In reality, the opponent didn’t matter to Hughes as much as the opportunity to shine on the biggest stage in mixed martial arts.
He’s been anxiously awaiting his chance to join the UFC roster and he plans on using his first fight as a way to send a message to the rest of the heavyweight division that a new contender has arrived.
“I’ve been studying these guys since the first day I stepped in the gym,” Hughes said about the UFC heavyweight division. “I was a fan before I was a fighter. I think I’m a problem for a lot of these guys.
“I’m not looking too far ahead in my career and I’m not looking past Saturday but I honestly think I’m giving a lot of these guys a hell of a fight.”