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Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 17 February, 2019

The UFC paid an emotional tribute to a legendary former champion last night

After being involved in a serious accident last year, Matt Hughes made the walk to the octagon once more.

Chinese tourist bus crash - Las Vegas, Nevada Matt Hughes (right) and Georges St-Pierre square off before their 2007 trilogy bout. Source: Francis Specker

VICTORY IN LAST night’s UFC headliner in St Louis went to Jeremy Stephens, but the main talking point following the organisation’s first event of 2018 was the return of a legend.

In June of last year, Matt Hughes was airlifted to hospital and placed in a medically-induced coma after the UFC Hall of Famer’s truck was hit by a train in Illinois. However, the 43-year-old thankfully made a good recovery from his injuries and he emerged from the coma in July.

Hughes’ last appearance in the octagon came back in September 2011, when he lost to Josh Koscheck at UFC 135. It was just his ninth defeat in 54 professional bouts. But the former welterweight champion made the walk once more last night in St Louis, near his hometown of Hillsboro.

As a guest of the UFC, an emotional Hughes — soundtracked by a rapturous reception from the 10,000 fans in attendance, as well as his old walkout song, ‘A Country Boy Can Survive’ — made his way to the octagon, where he was embraced by his wife and UFC president Dana White.

As pointed out by Bruce Buffer in his introduction, Hughes is universally recognised as “one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time” following a 14-year professional career as a fighter, during which he had two stints as UFC welterweight champion.

With his accomplished wrestling background, many regarded Hughes as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world in his prime. His trilogies with BJ Penn and Georges St-Pierre are among the most memorable rivalries in UFC history.

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Paul Dollery

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