If you pay attention to what is happening in the UK and Ireland MMA scene, or have heard anyone from the region speak over the last 12 months, you’ve probably heard the name Paul Hughes. His name has been linked with a UFC contract for some time now but the move is still yet to happen.
If you aren’t on the hype train already, then welcome to your jumping on point as we breakdown who Paul Hughes is and why everyone is going crazy that he isn’t signed to the big leagues yet.
Let’s Look Back
The starting point when looking at the career of Hughes up to this point, is by talking about Cage Warriors. As the most proven path to the UFC in Europe, the promotion is regularly seeing its fighters go through the ranks before departing to the MMA leader. Its featherweight division, that Hughes was champion of up until recent weeks, has had the likes of Mads Burnell, Paddy Pimblett and Conor McGregor all hold gold. The point being that the level of competition he has faced is of a high calibre.
His last five fights in the iconic yellow gloves is where the hype comes from, despite some impressive performances on his way up the featherweight rankings. That run actually starts with a loss, the one and only defeat on his record. At CW 119 in December of 2020, Hughes lost a split decision to Jordan Vucenic in one of the most closely contested fights the promotion has ever put on.
He responded with a win streak that has made him into one of the most talked about fighters outside the biggest promotions in the sport.
Not Enough Finishes?
If there’s one reason you can point to for why Hughes has yet to be signed, it’s his lack of finishes as of late. Though he has turned down multiple offers to earn a UFC contract via The Ultimate Fighter or Contender Series, Cage Warriors President/Owner Graham Boylan said his recent decision wins are likely what’s holding him back. That being said, the reason he is getting so much praise in the first place is due to those decision wins against high quality opponents.
The three decision wins on his record came consecutively against James Hendin (a top contender in the division), Morgan Charriere (recently made his UFC debut in style) and the rematch with Vucenic. Charriere has proved that he is a UFC-caliber fighter and many see Vucenic as the same which only makes Hughes’ performance in their rematch even more impressive. If the first fight between them came down to the wire, the Irishman left no doubt the second time around with a display that will go down as an all-timer in the promotion’s history books.
What Has Changed?
So why are we saying this now? Hughes made a return to the cage this past weekend in Ireland, stepping back into Cage Warriors after many assumed that his time in the promotion was done and dusted. Well now, you can consider him signed, sealed and delivered to the front door of the UFC headquarters. Moving up to lightweight and vacating his featherweight title, Hughes met Jan Quaeyhaegens in a number one contender match-up. With Quaeyhaegens on a five-fight finish streak, this was no tune up fight for Hughes. But he made it look like one…
In the opening round, Hughes proved once and for all that the reason he wasn’t finishing fights is because of the opponents he was up against. As his opponent stepped into range, the Irishman hit him with a picture-perfect left hook that spun his head around and finished the fight. You want finishes? You got them.
Time To Move On
Is there a chance that Hughes has one more fight in Cage Warriors for the lightweight title before moving on? Probably. Would it also be a waste of time? Absolutely. Hughes’ performance over the weekend was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Let’s face it, if that fight had been on the Contender Series, he would already be a member of the roster. If you’ve got UFC Fight Pass, fire up his last two fights or his Fight of the Year against Charriere. We’ve got no doubt that after watching the man do what he does best, you too will be questioning what has taken so long.
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