In the last year, MMA has seen the retirements of Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, and now it appears that another key star from the UFC's rise in the mid-2000s may be thinking about calling it quits.
Two-time UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes will go into his Saturday UFC 135 bout against Josh Koscheck on the last fight of his contract, and will face a decision about his fighting career shortly thereafter.
Hughes holds the UFC record for most wins, going 18-6 in 24 trips to the octagon. He also once held records for most consecutive title defenses (five) and wins in title fights (nine) -- marks that were both broken by current middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Hughes had the only tough stretch of his brilliant career between November 2006 and June 2008, going 1-3 in four bouts. But he rebounded to win three straight before losing at UFC 123 last November. That loss, a 21-second knockout to longtime rival BJ Penn, caused at least one member of the Hughes family to suggest he hang up his gloves for good.
"My wife tells me I'm done fighting," Hughes said on Monday. "She wanted me to quit after the BJ fight, so we'll just see. We'll see what I feel like and we'll see what the UFC wants to do. But this is the last fight on the contract so it doesn't matter what happens Saturday. We'll make a decision with the UFC."
At 37 years old, Hughes is one of the elder statesmen of the welterweight division, and he's already been inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. With a 45-8 record and two title runs in his past, he has nothing left to prove, but he says that at least for now, he has something to fight for, and something motivating him.
"It's the competition," he said. "That's what drives the top athletes in the UFC, the fact we love getting in there against one other person and mixing it up. I don't have to rely on four other teammates to score a basket. I rely on myself."
Despite his pedigree, Hughes hasn't defeated a top 10 divisional fighter since beating Penn in the second bout of their trilogy five years ago. So a fight against Koscheck, who is still in the top 10 despite more than nine months on the sidelines, is no easy way to get back into the victory column.
But according to Hughes, the outcome doesn't matter when it comes to deciding what's next for him. All of which means, it's quite possible that Saturday night will be the final time we see another one of MMA's great champions.
"The outcome of this fight won't really matter, to be honest," he said. "After this fight, win or lose, it doesn't matter. I'll talk to the UFC and we'll figure out what we want to do."