Brothers fight for dreams

You can spend your life dreaming of what could have been or you can make that dream a reality.Brothers Ethan and Dennis Hughes have chosen the latter.The 19 and 23-year-old Wiggins residents have spent the past five years training in mixed martial arts with dreams of becoming professional MMA fighters.

“I want to be a UFC champion. That is something that I've always wanted,” Ethan said. “It has always been something that I and my brother have been interested in.”

MMA fighters incorporate techniques from a wide variety of disciplines like boxing, karate, Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Judo to name a few.

The Hughes brothers moved to Wiggins from Mineral Wells, Texas with their mother, Rebecca Hughes, in the early 2000s.

Growing up, they watched Japanese anime cartoons and Bruce Lee films. Lee was a very popular martial artist who was known for incorporating multiple disciplines into his fighting style. The foreign fighting scenes in some of their favorite childhood films were badly dubbed, with actors’ mouths out of sync with the audio. Ethan and Dennis did not care. They were too busy paying close attention to the fighting skills and choreography on screen.

When Dennis turned 16 he looked for any martial art classes he could take. Ethan was right there with him.

“My brother and I would practice techniques from martial arts movies and anime and UFC fights,” Dennis said. “After enough time, we wanted to compete for real.”

The brothers first started taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons from instructors Jeremy Bond and Treba Davis, who operated gyms in Wiggins.

Jiu-Jitsu specializes in taking an opponent to the ground and using a chokehold to make them submit. If used correctly, a smaller, weaker fighter can successfully defend against a much stronger opponent.

“As it turns out, jujitsu is the defensive martial art, the one that helps you combat all the other ones. So it was a perfect base for us to start with,” Ethan said.

As they both advanced in skills, Ethan and Dennis were introduced to several MMA fighters and their current trainer, UFC fighter Kurt Holobaugh. To learn under Holobaugh, the brothers traveled to Louisiana. The newer gym was further but they both knew the training would make them better fighters. It also made their mother feel slightly better about her sons fighting professionally.

“Our mom, she wasn't exactly looking forward to us getting in the cage and fighting. So she said, if you're going to get into the cage, you need to have really good experience and good training,” Ethan said.

The brothers would drive to Amite once a week to train with the JUCAO team and train other sessions locally.

“The first couple times we went over there, it was rough,” Ethan said.

Less than a year of training, Dennis won his first official MMA fight.

When Ethan’s night in the cage finally came, no amount of training could steel his nerves.

His opponent that night was bigger than Ethan and had already won two fights before. Officials nearly called off the fight because Ethan’s challenger was seven pounds over his weight class, but Ethan insisted he would spar with him anyway.

“I want to fight. I want the experience. I want whatever I can get,” he remembers telling the officials.

His opponent had a bigger ego, too.

“He called himself a Jiu-Jitsu, Jesus,” Ethan said.

It was an energetic match. When their gloves touched, he rushed Ethan and threw alternating punches into his ribcage, landing every one. Ethan fell to the mat. It was like a hammer swinging down on him before the round ended. The two fighters returned to their corners for a breath.

“In my mind, I had already lost,” Ethan said.

The thought of being embarrassed like this angered him. He took a glance across the cage and felt a twinge of confidence.

“I see him on the other side and he is even worse shape than I am,” Ethan said. “I can just tell that he has practically nothing left in cardio. He burned it all up trying to knock me out. And he definitely rocked me, but I was very committed to winning this fight.”

His challenger is more cautious and slower as the second round starts. He moves forward and Ethan throws up a snap kick to his upper body. It lands and he collapses. Ethan jumps on top and he can only try to block his blows by pinning Ethan’s arms.

“As soon as I got my arms free, I was raining down punches,” Ethan said. “I was just taking trying to take this dude out with every bit of strength that I had.”

The timer goes off. The third round starts and Ethan is getting tired. He finishes the fight by taking his opponent to the ground and locking his joint. Jiu-Jitsu Jesus taps out and Ethan walks out of his first amateur MMA fight a winner.

Ethan won his next four amateur fights before turning professional. Once again, he advanced by stepping into the ring with professionals. Last fall, he won his first professional fight with a first-round finish.

“The dude had a couple of leg kicks and then I took him down…raining down punches until they called the fight,” Ethan said.

Most recently, he won his second professional fight this May at the Hattiesburg’s Lake Terrence Convention Center.

“That one was the hardest fight that I've had,” Ethan said.

The fight was scheduled at 10 days' notice so Ethan focused on his technique and went into the ring with a little background on who he was taking on.

He leads the fight with a few punches that his opponent dodges. The fighter throws a heavy kick in Ethan’s way. He deflects with the correct technique which is painful but effective.

“It didn't stop him,” he said.

Ethan takes another hard kick to his leg. But he fights through the pain shooting down his lower body and manages to finish him in the first round. His face is covered with blood, he walks out of the cage to cheers from the crowd.

For him, fighting is about facing his fears and putting his nerves to the test. The adrenaline rush helps him rise to the occasion and win.

“I get to experience some of the fear that goes along with getting out there, making yourself vulnerable,” Ethan said. “It's so much that you have to dig deep for in a fight. This is the moment where you show what you've gone through, how much that you have suffered through, there's that pressure. This is the moment that matters.”

The brothers are both fighting professionally right now. Ethan’s next professional fight will be in Shreveport, Louisiana in late August.

Dennis is currently fighting in the XFC league. His next fight is on August 6 and can be watched on Fox Sports 2.  Dennis has won five professional matches so far.

Like Ethan, he loves the challenge of a spar.

“Every time you think you’re good enough, someone finds a way to beat you and you realize you have to get better,” Dennis said. “That keeps it from ever getting boring. I’ve been pushed to the point of wanting to give up so many times, both in training and in the cage. But overcoming that feeling and pushing past it, no matter how bad your muscles burn or how bad your bones ache or hard it is to breathe, gives you a feeling of pride that is up there with the best things you can feel in life.”

Dennis continues to fight televised matches in his league. He trains and travels to matches with his brother. Off the mat, Ethan and Dennis are quiet, mild-mannered young men. Their polite demeanors contrast to their skilled cage-fighting stances within the rounds begin.

Ethan is hoping to stay undefeated and eventually fight for a championship title.

At first, some people were surprised the brother wanted to fight professionally, much less make it to the top of the MMA circuit.

Each fight Ethan wins is one round closer to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“You know, whenever somebody says I want to be a famous singer or I want to be a movie star, most of the time people think that's a silly dream,” Ethan said. “I guess I've just always been convinced that I can make mine a reality.”