Matt Hughes was on the verge of tears returning to the hospital where he battled for his life ... as 2 ICU nurses were honored for their care of the UFC legend.

On Tuesday, Ashley Hull and Megan Simpson of HSHS St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Illinois received the DAISY Award -- which recognizes extraordinary efforts in their field.

Hughes faced long odds of recovering from a deadly car wreck in June ... but Ashley and Megan worked tirelessly to bring him back to health after he sustained serious head trauma.

"They are masters of their craft and the most caring nurses I have ever encountered," Hughes' best friend Tony Zucca said at the ceremony.

The nurses spoke about how proud they were of Hughes ... which was incredibly moving for the longtime UFC champ and his family. 

"We believed wholeheartedly that Matt would wake up," Ashley said. "He beat the odds and won the biggest fight of his life."

Hughes still has a ways to go, but he's already able to walk ... and even practice jiu-jitsu!

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