Intense competition is one of the basics of growing up with siblings. What is more intense and visceral competition than fighting? Fighting shapes people. It teaches them how to hold their own. Fighting has become life for Legacy Fighting Alliance standout Sam Hughes.
“I grew up with three older brothers, and I’m the baby,” Hughes told Combat Press. “So, basically, I got picked on all the time. I had to keep up with the boys all the time while they were playing football, baseball, [and] messing around with wrestling and stuff. I was just trying to keep up with the boys. I was a total tomboy. It was good. I felt like I was outside all the time, just in every single sport — softball, soccer. I was playing everything.”
Hughes grew up in South Carolina, where she also ran track in high school, before going on to compete in and coach track at the University of South Carolina. After graduating with undergraduate degrees in accounting and finance and a Master’s degree in Sports Management, she moved out to Washington state, where she started a finance job.
“A buddy of mine said he went to a local gym and asked if I wanted to try out a kickboxing class,” Hughes said. “From then on, I fell in love with it. That was about five years ago. Then, I had about a three-year run as an amateur, and in January 2019, I turned pro.”
Hughes has trained at Catalyst MMA for her entire career. Under the tutelage of coaches Eddie Grant and Barb Honchak, she has been very successful. After breaking even as an amateur, she is now unbeaten in her first four pro fights.
“I think it’s a combination of athleticism and amazing coaching,” Hughes admitted.
Her pro debut was actually at 145 pounds, but her last three outings were at 125. In her last appearance, she faced Lisa Mauldin at LFA 81 in January. She emerged victorious by unanimous decision.
“She is very tough,” Hughes said. “As a pro, she’s the only one I didn’t put away. It went to decision. I have so much respect for that whole gym and Lisa. I knew she was going to be more of a Muay Thai striker, so I had to close the distance and get in on her. I got in on her and got some body locks and some takedowns and stuff. That’s what really clinched the fight for me.”
After the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought a halt to pro sports for a while, it was announced last month that the LFA was getting back to business. Hughes was announced as a headliner for LFA 85, which takes place Friday night at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. She’s set for a title fight against the 4-1 Vanessa Demopoulos for her strawweight debut as a pro.
“I know she comes from a very well-recognized gym,” said Hughes. “Black House MMA is fantastic. I know she trains among three different gyms. I know she trains with some UFC vets and things like that. She’s really tough. She’s really strong. I know she wants the fight to go to the ground, which I’m not worried about. I’m very confident in my grappling. I know it will be a tough fight, and a fight that, when I win, will make a name for myself. She’s been around, and she’s fought some really tough girls.”
It was announced a few months ago that Hughes had signed a multi-fight contract with the LFA as a strawweight, which is where she spent much of her earlier career before entering the pro level.
“As an amateur, I fought at 115 quite a bit,” Hughes explained. “I did some kickboxing matches at 125. As a pro, my coach always wanted me to drop down to the strawweight division, but I actually had a lot of difficulty finding fights. We got turned down a lot, but that was always the plan.”
Hughes brings an intense fighting style into the cage in every single fight, which is not surprising after she grew up with three big brothers. In fact, her style has led to her unique moniker.
“My coach always joked in the gym that I was a little pit bull, and she always called me ‘Sampage,’” Hughes said. “A coach on the east side of Washington — Rick Little — we went over there for a show one time, and he started calling me ‘Sampage’ too, just as a joke. And, then we kind of ran with it. Coach always calls me ‘Sampage’ in the gym, but we never really wanted to go with that nickname for whatever reason, but it just kind of stuck.”
On Friday night, “Sampage” will be back in the cage for her fifth pro outing, which airs live on UFC Fight Pass as part of the streaming service’s LFA 85 coverage. She is looking forward to getting her name out there with a dazzling win over a very tough opponent. If one thing’s for certain, it’s that her brothers will be watching and cheering their little sister on.
“They’re actually really excited about my MMA career,” Hughes said. “They love it.”