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James Te Huna: Australia’s Six Million-Dollar Man

Fightland Blog

By Liam Resnekov

On June 28th, the UFC reaches the shores of New Zealand for the first time. Headlining the card are James Te Huna and Nate Marquardt, two stars fighting for a chance at redemption and their place in their division. Although both are incredibly dangerous fighters, they are coming off equally devastating knockout losses and unfortunate losing streaks that may result in the end of one fighter’s career.

As an Australian, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the hometown hero, Te Huna, from the very beginning of his career. It’s been a long journey for this quiet achiever and it’s hard to believe it could potentially end here. You see, Aussie fans know something that international fans don’t; James is known as our version of the Six Million Dollar Man. Whenever he goes down, he gets up stronger and better than before. Imagine the immortal words of Oscar Goldman, but with an Aussie/New Zealand twang: “James Te Huna, Fighter. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. James Te Huna will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”

Originally hailing from New Zealand but moving to Australia in 1998 with his family, James is known for his explosiveness and his “mongrel,” a term to describe a uniquely Aussie kind of toughness, much like that of a smaller dog that never backs down from a fight. Like most Australian fighters, the UFC fans don’t know much about his pre-UFC life, unaware of the great wars fought on the shores of down under, the blood and sacrifices made to gain access to the world’s largest MMA stage.

Mention the name Te Huna in Australia and you might get asked, “Who, Tama?” Although they both debuted on the same show, it was James’s older brother Tama who first made waves in the Australian MMA scene. When they both lost their first fight, by submission, James decided to take a back seat to his brother’s career. I recall watching Tama fight in the early days of Australian MMA and the crowds would follow him wherever he would go. Always in his corner was the younger, quieter, but always friendly, brother James.

James was seemingly uninterested in a career in MMA but his brother recognized his talent and nudged him to give it another go. Almost a year after his debut he gave it another shot. Soon James was making a name for himself, submitting all three of his next opponents.

What really separated him from the mix was his fight against Takahiro Obain when his shoulder completely dislocated in the middle of the fight. I watched from the audience in horror as his corner set it over the ropes amidst the winces of the audience. He continued to fight while injured, beat Obain, and won the hearts of the crowd. His shoulder would later give him trouble, threatening to end his career in his fight with Hector Lombard.  Although he started strong, dropping Hector to the canvas with strikes, he was caught by a punch and on falling, his shoulder once again dislocated, causing the fight and almost his career to end.

As the fans have come to expect, his story happened differently and he made a miraculous comeback, winning 5 fights in a row, stopping UFC fighter Anthony Perosh and being signed to the UFC. I remember sitting in the audience when he fought Igor Pokrajac and wondering how an Australian was going to deal with our biggest weakness—wrestling. He soon answered my question by taking Igor down and stopping him with ground and pound. We now had to ask ourselves... what could stop this guy?

Unfortunately, that question was answered when he fought the then unknown Alexander Gustafsson. Starting strong with a takedown, the momentum suddenly changed when Gustafsson reversed him and secured the win. The Aussie crowd went dead silent. It was one of those few moments in Australian sport history where a pin could be heard dropping in the arena. Alexander went on to great things, but at the time, many Australians thought, “Maybe we just don’t belong in the UFC.” James took personal offense to this idea and came back with a TKO win over Ricardo Romero and has formed a solid 4-fight winning streak.

As it is at the top, he recently had a slip up against title contender Glover Texeira, losing by guillotine choke. His fans were so used to the pattern we simply expected the monster that always returns to walk through his next roadblock, Shogun Rua. He started so well, his standup looking smooth, improved and relaxed, and we were confident he would win. But, as it happens in a game of inches and split seconds, he got caught. It was another devastating sight for his fans and his brother.

Taking a step back and looking at the entire picture of this young man’s meteoric rise, at only 33, the best may be still to come. The fickle fans of the UFC may think that is the curtains for a once potent young fighter, but the Aussie fans know better, he may be due for one of his signature comeback streaks. One thing is for sure, on June 28th we will find out the future of one man and the fate of another.

 

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