What a difference a few years can make.
In 2007, the now defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships organization from Japan was purchased by Zuffa, LLC., the parent company of the UFC. Along with the acquisition of the company came the rights to several fighter contracts, allowing UFC to put on MMA dream fights such as Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva.
One contract that came as part of the sale was that of former K-1 champion and PRIDE fan-favorite Mark Hunt.
The king of the “atomic butt drop” was now part of the Zuffa family and it would only be a matter of time until he made his debut inside the world-famous Octagon.
Or would it?
As time went on, we find out that UFC President Dana White wanted nothing to do with “The Super Samoan,” as he himself revealed that he offered to pay Hunt’s contract out and have him sit at home.
As we all found out, Hunt chipped away at White and finally convinced him to give him a fight.
At the time that Hunt was set to make his UFC debut, he brought with him an unimpressive overall professional MMA record of 5-6.
He was a less-than .500 fighter.
Many weren’t optimistic about Hunt’s chances in the UFC, where in time we found out that many of the big stars from PRIDE couldn’t hang with the top-level fighters in North America’s biggest promotion.
Surely if Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua have trouble keeping up with UFC’s top fighters, Mark Hunt’s chances would be that much less, right?
Although Hunt’s debut in the UFC at UFC 119 in September was a loss to Sean McCorkle, Hunt was determined to achieve success inside the Octagon.
From this point on, we saw the same Mark Hunt that has shown glimpses of excellence in the past, as evident in his legendary PRIDE fights with Wanderlei Silva and Mirko CroCop, two fights that put him on the MMA map as a guy with legitimate potential.
He’s always had the stand-up skills, as everyone knows. You don’t become a K-1 World Grand Prix Champion without knowing how to throw a punch or two. You add to that the fact that Hunt’s head is seemingly made out of concrete, and all you need is to teach the Samoan Heavyweight how to defend a takedown and how to defend against submission attacks.
Well, someone taught the big fella.
Hunt finally found his comfort zone in the Octagon and after the McCorkle bout, he started finding success in the UFC.
Hunt followed up the McCorkle loss by picking up his first win in the UFC, a knockout of Chris Tuchscherer at UFC 127 in February of 2011. After picking a decision victory over the highly-regarded Ben Rothwell, Hunt would score very impressive, back-to-back knockouts of Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve.
The big man started gaining momentum.
Unfortunately for Hunt, that momentum would be derailed against a fighter you may have heard of, a guy by the name of Junior Dos Santos.
Dos Santos, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, made easy work out of Hunt, knocking him out with a spectacular spinning head kick after punishing him for three straight rounds. Until the knockout, however, Hunt was taking everything Dos Santos had and was even firing off a nice shot or two in the process.
Regardless, a loss is a loss, so it was back to the drawing board for Mr. Hunt.
Hunt would follow the Dos Santos fight up with what many call the greatest Heavyweight fight in MMA history, a five-round, rock’m-sock’m robot slugfest with Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in December of 2013.
The Hunt-Bigfoot classic would be ruled a draw, and would look even more impressive in hindsight as Bigfoot ended up testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone after the bout.
Hunt’s last fight was another impressive win, as he did what he does best — scoring a “walk-off knockout” over top-ranked contender Roy “Big Country” Nelson in September.
And that brings us to today.
The man who brought a less than .500 record into the Octagon and was offered to sit at home and get paid by the company President because of the belief that he’ll never amount to much in the highly competitive UFC ranks, now finds himself in a position to become champion.
Well, interim champion. Either way, an impressive climb for the Samoan bulldozer.
When the news broke that UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez was out of his scheduled title defense against Fabricio Werdum at the promotion’s debut event in Mexico, the company needed to find a replacement to save the card.
Enter Mark Hunt.
Hunt will step into the cage this Saturday at UFC 180 in Arena Mexico against the number one contender in the UFC Heavyweight division, Fabricio Werdum, for a chance to become the interim UFC Heavyweight Champion, which would set him up for a title unification bout with Cain Velasquez when the champ makes his return.
If Hunt wins this weekend, he has the chance to become a real-life Rocky Balboa. A guy who was counted out by many, if not everyone, only to turn around and prove he’s got what it takes to compete — and defeat — the best in the world.
Not a bad story.
UFC 180: Werdum vs. Hunt takes place this Saturday, November 15th from Arena Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico, airing live on pay-per-view. If you can’t watch the event for whatever reason, make sure to check out MMANews.com, as we will be providing live, round-by-round results coverage of the entire event!
Do you guys feel Hunt has a chance at beating Werdum this weekend? Let us know by posting your feedback in the “Comments” section below. You can also hit me up directly on Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBooneWZR, and/or on Twitter @MBoone420.