One can imagine the shock on Jeff Hughes’s face when he received a fight offer with the name “Todd Duffee” on the other end. After all, most assumed Duffee had gone off and retired from competition years ago.
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Duffee’s run as a professional proved to be quite exciting. He never once went the distance in his 12 professional bouts, and if he wasn’t knocking someone out, it was him who would hit the mat and force the referee to step in.
But after his last fight, a first-round knockout loss to Frank Mir in July of 2015, Duffee faded off of the map. That was until he resurfaced when the bout between him and Hughes surfaced.
The news came as a big surprise to Hughes. Not because of Duffee’s long layoff, but because he’d seen him training just days prior at the UFC Performance Institute.
“When I went out to the PI, I saw him out there training,” Hughes told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “I was out there with my teammate and somebody came over and was like, ‘Hey, you guys know you’re fighting him, right?’ And he’s like, over there training. I’m like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And then two days later they offered me the fight.”
Prior to his professional career — which began just nine months before Duffee’s last Octagon appearance — Hughes was a student of the game. He had seen a number of Duffee’s fights while he was just getting started in the sport himself.
“I remember him coming up. He was like 24, 25 and just wrecking people,” Hughes said. “He was a big name there for a minute, and then he just kind of went away.”
When Duffee’s name popped up on fans and pundits’ radars earlier this summer, the memories flooded in; the seven-second knockout of Tim Hague, his streak of five-straight fights ending in first-round knockouts, the brutal knockout he suffered against Mir. Hughes believes that the fond memories of his career are clouding people’s vision of the present.
“I think a lot of people are already thinking he’s won this fight just because he’s a big popular guy five years ago,” Hughes said. “I like proving people wrong, you know. Everything I do, I love proving people wrong.”
Not only does Hughes expect to win, he believes the way in which he does it will show that Duffee’s best days are behind him.
“I’m sure he wants to prove to everybody he still has it, but I’m here to prove that he doesn’t,” Hughes said. “That’s just how it goes.”
Jeff Hughes plans to bounce back
This fight isn’t only a pivotal bout for Duffee. Hughes is still looking for his first win in the UFC.
The 31-year-old heavyweight prospect made his way to the Octagon by way of Dana White’s Contender Series. He earned his spot on the show after winning the Legacy Fighting Alliance heavyweight belt with a win over Richard Odoms and defending it once against now-fellow UFC heavyweight Maurice Greene.
Hughes made the most of his Contender Series shot with a first-round knockout in July of 2018, but what followed was a long layoff.
“It was the most frustrating time of my entire career, hands down,” Hughes said. “I’m sitting on my phone every day waiting for news, anything. And nothing. I mean, I couldn’t get on a card to save my life.”
Finally, Hughes got a fight booked against fellow prospect Daniel Spitz. Then, injury struck Spitz and forced him out, and in came a familiar face for Hughes to fight.
For the second time in one year, Hughes and Greene went to battle. Once again, the fight made it to the judges, but this time, Greene prevailed by split decision.
” I could say that I think I won the fight because I think I did, but I think anybody that goes to split decision and loses probably thinks they won,” Hughes said. “I didn’t let it bother me too bad. I hate losing more than anything, but I took it as experience to get better.”
Returning from injury
Hughes endured another long layoff after his rematch with Greene, this time due to injury.
“My last fight, that second round, I broke my hand, my right hand,” Hughes said. “That put me on the shelf for about two months.”
Hughes had what doctor’s told him was a “boxing fracture” in his first knuckle. Typically, the fracture occurs in the ring and little finger instead.
The injury limited his training but didn’t bring it to a full halt. Hughes maintained his routine of running, and he kept throwing punches with his left hand, which made his jab “the best it’s ever been.”
Eventually, the itch to get back in the cage became unbearable.
“I probably started sparring a little bit before I was supposed to,” Hughes said. “But I had to get back in there and do it.”
The Strong Style Fight Team prospect now prepares for a bout with a lot of questions surrounding it. Hughes says that he doesn’t base his camps solely around his opponent, so the lack of tape on Duffee has not been an issue in camp.
If all goes well for Hughes on Saturday at UFC Vancouver, he’d like to remain active.
“I’d like to fight — especially if this one goes really well; no injuries, I come out on top — there’s no reason I couldn’t get ready to fight by November, December,” Hughes said. “It’d be nice to fight right before Christmas too, so my daughter gets some nice gifts.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.