UFC 135 breakdown: Hughes vs. Koscheck

Matt Hughes (45-8) vs. Josh Koscheck (17-5)

In an intriguing welterweight bout Koscheck has demanded for years, the American Kickboxing Academy product will battle the UFC Hall of Famer Hughes.

Koscheck, 33, has been sidelined since his December 2010 title bout with Georges St. Pierre, in which he suffered a broken orbital bone.

Koscheck’s performance against St. Pierre was not his best, as he was outboxed and outwrestled by the more explosive titleholder. But his fighting spirit was certainly admirable. The Pennsylvania native had his eye battered thoroughly in the first round. Unable to see out of his right eye, Koscheck continued to fight for another 20 minutes.

Prior to challenging St. Pierre for the title, Koscheck had compiled a three-fight winning streak over Paul Daley, Anthony Johnson and Frank Trigg. Koscheck’s other notable wins include Diego Sanchez and Chris Lytle.

A four-time NCAA Division I All-American, Koscheck is among the most accomplished wrestlers in the UFC. Since his run as a contestant on the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," fans have witnessed Koscheck evolve as a fighter. No longer a desperate wrestler relying on his shot, Koscheck has showcased knockout power in his finishes of Trigg, Yoshiyuki Yoshida and Dustin Hazelett, while also earning his brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Dave Camarillo.

Hughes, 37, is one of MMA’s all-time greats. A former two-time UFC champion, Hughes is a true welterweight pioneer who has greatly influenced the sport with his own brand of fast-paced wrestling.

The former Miletich Fighting Systems pupil has beaten a long list of top fighters in his 53-fight career, including Trigg, Lytle, B.J. Penn, Matt Serra, Renzo Gracie, Hayato Sakurai and Sean Sherk.

Hughes is a two-time NCAA Division I All-American, who, like Koscheck, has benefited from wrestling as his bread and butter throughout his career. Hughes, too, has evolved considerably since debuting in 1998, establishing himself as a submission specialist with impressive tapouts of Ricardo Almeida and Joe Riggs, while improving his striking and dropping a number of foes with his heavy hook.

Koscheck has made no secret of his desire to fight Hughes for years. Hughes, meanwhile, does not seem as enthusiastic about the fight.

Win or lose, Hughes can still handle himself well with the division’s premier talent. Koscheck may be more dangerous at this stage, but he’s matched up against one of the most seasoned and gritty combatants in the game.

Koscheck’s wrestling pedigree should allow him to dictate where the fight takes place, and his boxing technique should be sharper if he can keep it standing.

Hughes is determined for a victory as this is the last fight on his UFC contract, but his younger adversary might just be one step ahead. If Koscheck lands a heavy combination, it could be lights out, but Hughes is durable and should stick around for three competitive rounds.

Verdict: Koscheck via decision