x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hughes plays waiting game in triumph

'Clash of legends' disappoints as Brazilian master Gracie fails to live up to crowd support but promises he will be back.

Renzo Gracie is tended to after losing at Yas Island last night.
Renzo Gracie is tended to after losing at Yas Island last night.

ABU DHABI // Bruce Buffer, the UFC Octagon announcer, dubbed it: "the clash of legends". It turned out, for two and a half rounds anyway, to be a damp squib. The overwhelming sensation, played out willingly by Renzo Gracie, the UFC debutant, and Matt Hughes, a former two-time welterweight champion, who spent 12 minutes sizing each other up, was one of respect.

It was not until three minutes in to the third round that anything meaningful happened. That moment, a Hughes leg kick which sent Gracie to The Octagon floor, was not even followed up: Gracie casually put his hand out and Hughes, even more casually, helped him up. In a contest expected to feature the renowned grappling and jiu-jitsu skills of both fighters, the action between Gracie and Hughes was distinctly stand-up. And of the comedy variety.

Neither seemed particularly interested in hurting the other. The crowd, partisan towards the Gracie, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, who trains Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al Nahyan in his native form of the discipline, grew increasingly frustrated. Then, Hughes kicked Gracie's weakening left leg again and once more the local hero, who entered the Yas Island arena venue to the Arabic pop singer, Aida al Manhali's anthem Salam Alah, fell.

Again, Hughes helped him up. The crowd were not happy. Hughes, however, scented blood. As his opponent tired and wobbled, the American advanced, landing several hard punches - lefts and rights of all varieties - on Gracie's face and head. Gracie fell and Hughes pounced. Jumping down on to the stricken Gracie, Hughes rained down hammer blows for what seemed like an eternity - perhaps because of the lack of action beforehand - and referee Herb Dean stepped in.

"I was pretty happy with how it went," said Hughes in The Octagon afterwards. "I knew Renzo was throwing wide, looping shots, so it was important I moved away, keep it tight and simple." Explaining the drawn-out stand-up, Hughes added: "The gameplan was to strike because I had to put the odds on my side." Having sported a modified Manchester City strip, branded with his own sponsors, Gracie was 'ironically' fighting out of the blue corner - the colour of the English Premier League side.

With City's chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak watching from the sidelines, the only things blue about Gracie come the end, however, were his eyes and mood. "It was very hard," he said. "Six months to prepare for this fight and a guy like Hughes is tough. But what kind of fighter would I be if I hadn't accepted?" Asked if he would be returning to the UFC, Gracie, who has a six-fight contract, said: "I'll be back for sure."

The drama of this heavily-hyped fight may not have lived up to expectations, but it was 'legendary' nonetheless. emegson@thenational.ae