Talk about a wedding present! Just a week after getting hitched, Jeff Hughes will welcome Todd Duffee back to the octagon at UFC Vancouver.
When UFC heavyweight Jeff Hughes steps in the octagon this weekend at UFC Vancouver, it’ll be exactly one week to the day he tied the knot. The honeymoon, he’s been joking with his new bride, will be in Vancouver.
Cageside Press caught up with Hughes (10-2) the day after the wedding. “It turned out perfect,” Hughes said of his big day. The wedding, not the fight, which is still to come. “We did it right on the lake.” About a hundred people turned out for the ceremony. Including UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, a teammate of Hughes.
And no, Vancouver isn’t really going to be the honeymoon spot if all goes well. “I want to take her somewhere. I like sandy beaches and hot weather. Hopefully after this fight, if all goes well, we’re going to go— I love the keys and all that.”
Florida would certainly offer more sun than Vancouver’s rainy climate. More motivation to pick up a post-fight bonus, no doubt. But then, as Hughes pointed out, “there’s always motivation for that, though.”
The former roofer, clearly, is loving life as a full-time fighter. Much better than lugging shingles, at least. It wasn’t too long ago that Hughes dropped his day job. “It’s just great. If you’ve ever done shingles or any manual labor like that, you know it’s hard and it’s hot. Miserable,” he told us. “The last thing you want to do after a hard day, ten hour day is roll around on a mat with other hot sweaty men.”
That said, “my dream to make it to the UFC and to win fights in the UFC surpassed my laziness,” quipped Hughes. “So I still did it. But now that I don’t have to do it, it’s great. I almost have too much free time sometimes. I think my training has stepped it up. I’m not tired for one. And just motivated. I’m real motivated.”
Roofing certainly isn’t easy on the body, so ditching the day job came at an opportune time for the 31-year old Hughes. “The older I get the harder it is for stuff to heal. I remember when I was 22, and I hurt myself in practice or whatever, the next day I was fine. Now it’s like a week later, I’m still whining about it.”
Plus, he noted, “carrying shingles is real hard on your elbows. And so is throwing a thousand jabs or whatever. Not having to carry shingles, I don’t have elbow pain anymore, or shoulder pain. It’s really good.”
Hughes trains at the Strong Style gym in Cleveland, home to none other than UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. That might just be the perfect spot for a heavyweight to train. Although it was a little odd initially, Hughes admitted. “I’ve always known Stipe. Before I started training with him. He’s a nice guy. But when I first got there, it was kind of weird, like ‘oh my god, I’m training with the heavyweight champion of the world.'”
Now, however, it’s not big deal, he said. “We’re all really good friends. He was at the wedding last night partying, and having a really good time.”
Training with the best heavyweight in the world certainly adds to Hughes’ confidence. “If I can take a punch from him, I don’t think there’s a human that can knock me out,” he said. “I feel like he hits just as hard or harder than anyone in the world. And he’s durable, he’s all-around good. He’s good off his back, you just never see it, because how often does he get taken down?”
“Me being a dumb 19-year old kid, I went up there like ‘oh I can probably hang with him.’ And he beat me like, I mean I had no business being in there with him.” — Jeff Hughes recalls his first time sparring with Stipe Miocic
“It’s been the greatest thing, to have him training me, and not only that, but like mentally, he talks me through a lot of stuff,” Hughes continued. “It’s just great having him around. It’s great he allowed me to be part of his training camp when he did. We just turned into like, now I’m his main training partner.”
Hughes started wrestling in his teens, around 16 or 17. “And I ended up being pretty good at it,” he recalled. “I loved competing, I loved beating people up.” Hughes especially loved it when opponents wound up bloodied, and needed to take “blood time.” He was already watching the UFC as well, and “kind of put two and two together.” So he pursued MMA.
At 18 or 19, Hughes jumped at the chance to become a sparring partner for Miocic. Stipe was boxing at the time. “They were always looking for sparring partners. Me being a dumb 19-year old kid, I went up there like ‘oh I can probably hang with him.’ And he beat me like, I mean I had no business being in there with him.”
Hughes, however, recognized that if he could get better, and hang with Miocic, then he could hang with anybody. “Even as an amateur, he was one of the baddest men on the planet. That’s how I met him, we trained together when I was 19. He probably doesn’t even remember that, but of course I do.”
Hughes came into the UFC via LFA, and after an appearance on the Contender Series. His first fight was actually a rematch, against TUF alum Maurice Greene — a fighter he’d previously defeated.
The takeaway, simply put, was “don’t take anybody lightly. I thought I was going to go in there and the same thing was going to happen,” said Hughes. “I still think I won the fight, but the judges thought otherwise. I can’t start off slow this one coming up next Saturday.”
Don’t take anybody lightly, and “don’t leave it to the judges,” Hughes added.
As for whether the Contender Series prepared him for the big show, the heavyweight known as ‘Lights Out’ doesn’t think it did. “No, I think it was the opposite,” Hughes said, which might surprise some. “It may be a little bit different now, because they’re in a new building. But before, there was like, 50, 60 people in the crowd. It almost felt like a gym atmosphere where you’re sparring. Then when you get to the big show, you go out there and check it out, before people start coming in, and you see all these empty seats and you go, like ‘oh my god, this is crazy.'”
His promotional debut came at UFC Wichita in March, and what stands out to Hughes now was his complete lack of nerves, which “was kind of weird. I don’t get super nervous, but I had zero nerves at all.” That might have been part of the problem, he suggested. “I wasn’t ready for it. I was happy I made it to the UFC, instead of staying focused and doing what I was supposed to do.”
He won’t make the same mistake with Duffee, a name he was excited to see offered. “I remember watching him when I was younger, and he was just a destroyer when he was 25, 26,” said Hughes. “I love good match-ups, I love tough guys. People who only go for easy fights, that annoys me. I was real happy to get it, that’s a huge name. The hardcore fans still know who he is. He’s in the record books for one of the fastest knockouts ever.”
A name like Duffee, Hughes added, “was actually extra motivation to get ready for this fight, because I knew who he was, and I was like, ‘man he brings it.’ So I have to bring it too.”
“They look a lot better on film than they do in the cage sometimes” — Jeff Hughes, on watching tape of opponents
Hughes is a believer in ring rust, and Duffee has been out of action for over four years, battling a host of ailments. “You can spar every day of every week, but it’s not the same,” said Hughes. “It’s honestly not the same. I’ve taken 14 months before, and when I got back in the cage, I was confused the first round. I was like ‘man this is weird.’ You’re not used to your adrenaline spiking up like that.”
“There’s nothing in the world that gets your adrenaline up that high. He’s going to have to deal with all that,” continued Hughes. “Maybe he’s comfortable in there, I don’t know. I hope he is. I want the best Todd Duffee that night. I want to beat the best Todd Duffee there is.”
This is one of those fights that doesn’t feel like it will go the distance, but Hughes is hedging his bets. “On paper it doesn’t look like it’s going to, but you never know.” Hughes, however, is ready to go fifteen minutes if need be. He hasn’t even checked to see if Duffee’s gone the distance (Duffee has not, going to the third round only once, which ended in a knockout loss). Hughes isn’t worried about records or any of that, instead, he knows he “can push the pace for 25 minutes, so 15 minutes isn’t going to be a problem.”
In his heart, Hughes would go on to add, “I believe when I’m on and when I use my game plan and I implement it, I’m one of the best fighters in the world in the heavyweight division.”
He leaves the game planning and tape-watching up to his coaches, mind you, after making the mistake of watching video years ago. “They look a lot better on film than they do in the cage sometimes.”
Of late, another heavyweight has been claiming to be the best in the world: Bellator’s Ryan Bader, who holds both light heavyweight and heavyweight gold in that promotion. As a teammate of Stipe Miocic, Jeff Hughes knows who he is siding with in that debate.
“I’m sure [Bader]’s a nice guy, but he’s not. We all know who the greatest of all time is,” said Hughes. “There’s a reason that belt’s in Cleveland right now. He can believe whatever he wants, and he’s a nice guy, I’ve met him at our gym before, but we all know who the best is. There’s really no debate.”
UFC Vancouver (UFC Fight Night 158) takes place Saturday, September 14 at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. The card airs live on ESPN+ in the U.S., and on TSN 4 in Canada.