Serra knows best: UFC welterweight champ pegs St. Pierre to beat Hughes

"The Ultimate Fighter" reality series has been an ingenious marketing device for the UFC. The competition simultaneously builds name recognition for unheralded fighters while it promotes big matchups with the name-brand coaches of the competing teams.

The episodes are cleverly edited to exaggerate the conflict between the athletes, but sometimes the animosity is real. Coaches Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock had such visceral dislike for each other that they almost came to blows during the filming of Season 3.

The most recent installment featured Season 4 winner and welterweight champion Matt Serra, and former welterweight champion Matt Hughes.

Although not on par with Ortiz and Shamrock in terms of bad blood, Serra and Hughes did a good job of rubbing each other the wrong way. Hughes disliked Serra's use of bad language, and made it clear he did not rate Serra as a fighter. Conversely, Serra resented the perceived lack of respect from Hughes, and described the former champion as "arrogant" and a "typical frat boy."

Serra was forced to pull out of his fight with Hughes due to an injury sustained during training.

In his place, and fighting for the interim welterweight championship is former Hughes conqueror and Serra victim Georges St. Pierre.

"It was devastating because I was really looking forward to this fight," Serra told ESPN.com. "I think anyone who witnessed even any of Season 6 of 'The Ultimate Fighter' could see how much I wanted this fight."

Serra's clashes during the filming of the show with the surly Hughes makes the cancellation even more of a blow to him.

"We're two different types of guys," the likable New Yorker said. "He's just not my type of guy. I think he is smug. I know he doesn't like me, and that's fine.

"I'll speak my mind on the guy, because I knew we were going to have a showdown. Right now, I don't want to say anything. I'm actually rooting for him to beat GSP [Georges St. Pierre] because that way we get to fight afterward."

Does he actually think the UFC legend can win against the man who beat him so resoundingly the last time they fought?

"I think that's a battle of who gets on top," Serra said. "I think St. Pierre is way superior on his feet and as far as the wrestling goes, I don't even think Hughes is a better wrestler. George is just coming into his own right now, and he is as big if not bigger, strong if not stronger. I think he beats Hughes pretty much everywhere. Hughes' only chance is to get him down."

What does Serra think of Hughes as a fighter?

"He's as predictable in and out of the ring," Serra said flatly. "He does his thing, he's a wrestler with a good kimura [an armlock], and that's his thing. He has pretty good jiujitsu skills. He's a problem on top. But standing up, I think Hughes is awful."

With St. Pierre coming back from his loss to Serra with an impressive win over Josh Koscheck in August, Serra believes that his former adversary is stronger than ever.

"St. Pierre is on top of his game," he said. "I don't think he would have picked this fight in a little over a month if he wasn't confident.

"Matt Hughes is [resorting to mental] games. He's saying, 'You know, a month is not enough time to get ready, I don't think it's enough for a championship bout.' I see what [Hughes] is doing and I think it's hysterical. I think that St. Pierre is going to beat him again."

If he were Matt Hughes, what would his strategy be going into the fight?

"It's interesting, I think Matt Hughes is going to do everything in his power to try and get him down and on the ground," Serra said. "He's not going to try and mix it on his feet; that will get him way more tired. If that's the case, then it's going to be a very bad night. It will probably go similar to their last fight."

And the champion has a bit of advice for his would-be enemy.

"You have to hurt St. Pierre," he said plainly. "You have to set up a takedown and you have to disguise it. If he's reading you like a book, it's a problem. You've got to give him something to respect, or he won't respect you at all and he'll run you down like he did the first time."

Good advice, considering Hughes admitted during a conference call that he was as confused as anybody on how to take St. Pierre off his feet.

When asked if he thought he had a mental advantage going into his third bout with St. Pierre, Hughes was curt and to the point: "I wouldn't say I've got a psychological edge," he said. "I can't get into Georges' mind, so I can't answer that question."

For his part, St. Pierre isn't letting his dominant win over Hughes get to his head.

"I fought Matt Hughes twice before, he beat me once, and I beat him once," St. Pierre said. "We are both different fighters than we were last time, so of course I might come out with a different strategy, but it's like when you play cards: You don't show your hand."

How has the loss to Serra affected him leading up to the fight?

"The loss was the best thing that ever happened to me," St. Pierre said candidly. "I went through it like a man. I made many mistakes coming into that fight, and you know, it's not always the best team in baseball that wins the game, the team who comes more well-prepared is the team who plays the best. It's the same thing with fighting."

What does it mean to St. Pierre to be fighting perhaps the greatest champion in UFC history again?

"It's a great motivation, and I've never been so pumped up for a fight," he said.

Ben Cohen covers boxing and MMA for Secondsout.com.