FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Auburn, Maine (April 23, 2022)
Lofty aspirations as a mixed martial artist have taken Aaron “Short Fuse” Hughes to high elevations against a towering level of opposition this spring.
The 27-year-old Hughes, a promising professional featherweight from Fall River, Massachusetts, took his talents across the country to the mile-high air of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, Hughes has immersed himself in training at Jackson Wink MMA Academy, the cradle of champions cultivated by three-time World MMA Awards coach of the year Greg Jackson.
“I signed a management deal. My manager’s name is Jeffrey Chavez. He’s high up in Jackson Wink,” Hughes explained in a recent segment of The Room Podcast with Steve Domenico. “He thought I had a lot of potential, and he signed me. I’ve been staying in the dorm rooms for the last two weeks, getting some of the best training in the world, getting attention from coaches like Greg Jackson and Brandon Gibson and Alex Exsisto and Mike Winkeljohn. It’s honestly been an insane experience out here. I love it.”
Hughes (1-2) will put those lessons to work in the New England Fights hexagon on Saturday, May 14, when he takes on Anthony Vasta (0-1) at NEF 47: “The Battle of L/A.” Bell time for the promotion’s long-awaited return to the Twin Cities is set for 7 p.m.
MMA is a worldwide discipline with countless, distinct ability echelons, and Hughes anticipates that setting his recent activity at the expert level will slow down the game when he returns to a competitive situation. Of course, his only regret is that he can’t stay longer.
“I’m actually flying back tomorrow, but man, it’s fucking beautiful out here,” Hughes said. “The mountains, honestly I’m getting tired just talking because the elevation is so high. We were doing a little bit of shadow boxing and pad work up in the mountains. It’s absolutely beautiful. If I could put a house right here, man, I would.”
Hughes turned professional after a 10-fight amateur career and an extensive background in other combat disciplines. He owns a win and a draw on the grappling circuit already this year. His most recent NEF appearance was a loss via punches at 1:22 of the first round to Jacob Deppmeyer at NEF 44: “Back in Black” last August.
Job one, he decided, was to get stronger.
“I’ve put a lot of focus on strength and conditioning. If you follow my social media, you can see that,” Hughes said. “I’ve put on a lot of muscle, really dialed in and focused on my nutrition. Just surrounding myself with like-minded individuals. There’s nothing that I truly want more in this world than to be fighting full-time in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).”
It was an ideal place in his development for Hughes to immerse himself in the atmosphere that produced UFC world champions Andrei Arlovski, B.J. Penn, Carlos Condit, Frank Mir, Georges St. Pierre, Holly Holm, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans to see where his skills stack up.
While some would feel intimidated in that deep end of the talent pool, Hughes walked away encouraged that he’s on the proper path.
“Just being out here and grinding every day has out a lot of stuff in perspective for me,” Hughes said. “It’s given me a lot of self-belief, a lot of self-confidence, especially training with the people that I’m training with. Not much has changed other than my strength and conditioning. I’ve put on a lot of muscle, gotten a lot stronger. But we’re still out here grinding.”
Hughes, representing Regiment Training Center – also home to UFC heavyweight veteran Yorgan “The Mad Titan” De Castro – now turns his attention to another former sparring partner who stands in his way next month.
Vasta is 0-1 as a pro with a unanimous decision loss to Nathaniel Grimard at NEF 46: “Decade of Dominance” in February.
“There’s no hard feelings honestly. When I was presented with the fight, I originally said no. We train together all the time. I’ve probably sparred Anthony seven or eight times,” Hughes said. “When I found out he accepted the fight, it was like, ‘Well, he accepted it. He thinks he can beat me, Let’s fucking do it.’”
As you might expect from two friendly rivals who have seen one another at their best and worst, Hughes and Vasta both appear to be brimming with confidence going into the bout.
Hughes has taken some of that chatter to heart as motivation.
“I saw in his interview that he said he’s gonna break me on fight night, which I think is absolutely hilarious,” Hughes said. “Not to talk shit, but I’ve seen him break in the gym multiple times.
“I’m out here sparring with the best guys in the world, Aaron Pico, Holly Holm, Khaos Williams, guys who have won in UFC, Bellator,” he added. “If they’re not breaking me in the gym, there’s no way in hell Anthony Vasta’s gonna break me, so I don’t know where he got that from. I’m just looking forward to getting in there and showing all the improvements I’ve made in my skill set, my mindset. I’m gonna go out there and show that there’s levels to this shit.”
Hughes’ last MMA outing was a unanimous decision loss to Rakim Thorpe in November on the undercard of a De Castro bout.
Having lost his first three amateur scraps from 2015 through 2017, Hughes understands the inherent ups and downs of the sport and the occasional need to go back to the drawing board. He walked away from Jackson Wink believing there is a place for him at the highest level.
“A lot of shit’s in perspective right now for me. 2022 is my year, man,” Hughes said. “I’m doing it fucking big this year. I want at least three wins this year. I’m gonna show people that they need to stop sleeping on me, stop doubting me. I know I have the skills to be one of the best in the world.”
Hughes had that personal assessment validated by no less an authority than Jackson himself.
“Greg pulled me aside the other day. He said, ‘Hey, you have really good striking. Can I use you for rounds for Aaron Pico?’ Who then proceeded to fuck me up,” Hughes said with a chuckle “But just the fact that I was recognized for my skills by one of the best coaches in the world was a very eye-opening experience. That’s given me a lot of self-belief and a lot of confidence, and I know I’ve just got to go out there and fight my fight and I’m very tough to beat. I’m truly blessed and truly grateful, and I can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for me.”
NEF 47: “The Battle of L/A” is the organization’s first appearance in Lewiston-Auburn since June 22, 2019, and its inaugural card on the opposite side of the river. NEF held 25 of its first 30 dockets in Lewiston. Tickets are on sale now at www.NewEnglandFights.com/Tickets.