Two things are equally true: One, Royce Gracie is the most important figure in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship; and two, Gracie’s fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 60 on May 27, 2006, is the most inexcusably lopsided matchup the promotion ever put into a main event.
Gracie, the winner of the first, second and fourth UFC tournaments, was 39 years old going into the fight and had fought only three times in the last five years. Specifically, he had fought on each of the last three New Year’s Eves in Japanese-style spectacle bouts against such competition as 500-pound Chad “Akebono” Rowan and customary featherweight Hideo Tokoro. A good argument could be made that Gracie had not beaten a legitimate opponent since triangling Dan Severn to win his third and final UFC tournament all the way back in 1994.
Hughes, meanwhile, had been putting a stranglehold on one of the best divisions in the sport. The welterweight champ’s UFC record stood at 10-1 with eight finishes, the only blemish his shocking upset at the hands of B.J. Penn. He was, alongside Fedor Emelianenko and Chuck Liddell, one of the three top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
Nonetheless, the promotion booked the fight, presented it as the homecoming of its most legendary figure and did its level best to sell the public on the idea that Gracie could defeat an upstart champion of the “new” UFC. It didn’t take, as Hughes entered the Octagon as a -300 favorite that night, but the promotional campaign and Gracie’s name value still managed to drum up enough interest to break some records; at 620,000 pay-per-view buys it became the UFC’s best-selling event to date.
If the success of the event was a surprise, however, the outcome of the main event itself was not. Hughes ignored a couple of stiff-looking front snap kicks by the former champ, then took him down from the clinch directly into side control. Hughes straightened Gracie’s arm in a painful-looking kimura, and when no tap was forthcoming, let the hold go. In the ensuing scramble, Hughes took Gracie’s back, whereupon he blasted the Brazilian with punches to the head until referee “Big” John McCarthy stopped the beating at 4 minutes, 39 seconds of the first round.