Illustrations by Gian Galang
At UFC 119, Mark Hunt set out to prove everybody wrong.
Having dropped five losses back to back, his promotional debut would have to underline his relevance in the modern game and once again showcase that aggression, that iron chin and those explosive hands that seemed to detonate perfectly when they connected with opponents’ chins.
Standing in his way on that September night in 2010 was Sean McCorkle. 6’7’’ McCorkle was riding a nine fight win streak and being booked to meet one of the legends of Pride and K-1 in his own debut must have been daunting. Surely Hunt would have done his homework on the American’s grinding, submission heavy style?
“The Super Samoan” went into his debut with a record of 5-6 and with five of his losses coming by submission. It was a part of his game that certainly needed some attention ahead of his birth with the world’s flagship MMA promotion.
The contest would never leave the opening round as he hit all the stereotypes of a striker still transitioning into MMA. It wasn’t even a takedown that brought the action to the canvas. It was more of a mixture of Hunt barging forward and McCorkle (kind of) pulling guard. Locking on to a kimura in the guard, McCorkle switched to a straight armlock to finish the bout thus confirming Hunt’s lack of interest with the ground game.
And it wasn’t like he was just in there for the money.
UFC had inherited the New Zealander from their buyout of Pride in 2007. Dana White would reveal Hunt’s contract situation at the post-fight press conference for UFC 135.
“When we bought Pride, he came as part of the Pride deal,” said the UFC president. “It was back and forth and basically I was just like—we’ll just pay you off. We know you’re in the Pride deal. And Mark Hunt said “No, I want to come. I want to fight.”
People didn’t hold a lot of hope for Hunt’s survival on MMA’s biggest stage after his lacklustre debut. It was nothing to do with his personality, the fans loved him, but Hunt must have known that he needed to put a stamp on his second performance.
Again matched with wrestler with a dominant top game, Chris Tuchscherer, Hunt looked a completely different animal just five months after the McCorkle loss. His cinderblock hands tore the eye of Team Deathclutch in the first round, nearly stopping the bout before ‘The Crowbar’ took Hunt to the mat and started looking for a kimura only to be stopped by the bell.
Tuchscherer emerged for the second round with bleached blonde hair that was camouflaged in blood from Hunt’s assault. The Super Samoan took his first MMA win in five years when he blasted the American with a knowing right uppercut and simply walked away, a showing of experience and nobility from the veteran striker which won him ‘Knockout of the Night’ honors.
The walkaway KO emphasized Hunt’s place among the top of the pile in terms of heavyweight strikers and seemed to light a fire under the winner of the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix.
Hunt scored two takedowns of his own and even attempted a submission as he picked apart Ben Rothwell to see his hand raised for a unanimous decision at UFC 135. Although he didn’t get the finish that night, Hunt’s development was evident against the awkward, towering IFL standout.
Again, it was his right hand against Cheick Kongo at UFC 144 in February 2012 that saw Hunt claim another victory. First hurting the Frenchman with a left hook, when Congo stood back up Hunt would finish the bout as he cracked his opponent with leaping right hands. Following up his strikes on the ground, the screams of the crowd in Saitama proved how much the Japanese had missed Hunt and the whole MMA world would soon trumpet their support.
When Alistair Overeem’s failed drug test ruled him out of fighting for Junior Dos Santos’s heavyweight title at UFC 146, Hunt’s diehard fan base, The Army of Doom, launched a social media campaign to see their hero thrust into the championship title spot. It looked like they actually had a case considering Hunt was scheduled to face Stefan Struve on the same night, but eventually Hunt would be forced to pull out of the May 2012 show himself.
Meeting Struve in early 2013, a walkway left hook shattered the Dutch heavyweight’s jaw in the third round of their clash as Hunt again had his hand raised and continued to gather momentum. With four wins back to back in UFC, the former K-1 star was now legitimately a fixture in UFC’s heavyweight title conversation.
Junior Dos Santos acted as the litmus test for Hunt’s title aspirations, and unfortunately for The Army of Doom, it proved too much for the New Zealander when he met the former champion in May 2013.
He certainly tagged the Brazilian a few times, but Dos Santos too needed to convince a few people after losing his belt to Cain Velasquez. A spinning heel kick separated Hunt from his senses in the third round of the bout, diminishing the talk of his striking supremacy despite him claiming a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus.
There was the war with Antonio ‘Big Foot’ Silva that once again highlighted Hunt’s iron chin and will to match in December of the same year. Hunt was unlucky not to have his hand raised with the fight ending in a draw, but it certainly didn’t hurt that he had taken part in one of the greatest heavyweight bouts of all time. The feat was made even more impressive when ‘Big Foot’ tested positive for performance enhancing substances in the wake of the contest.
As Struve and Congo will testify to, Hunt seems to be hell bent on the spectacular when he performs in Japan having been the toast of so many former glories in the Land of the Rising Sun. When he met fellow heavy hitter Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson on Japanese soil most predicted a knockout would finish the bout.
It was another right uppercut that needed no follow-up. Hunt raised his hands as referee Leon Roberts scrambled to the scene. The second round win moved the knockout king into the number four spot and again the rumblings were heard calling for a Hunt title shot.
The great curse of UFC 180 provided Hunt with the date. When champion Velasquez suffered an injury to his right knee, UFC turned to the man they once wanted to pay-off rather than perform to fight for an interim title shot against Fabricio Werdum.
Werdum has looked incredible since returning to UFC. The Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion’s striking has looked every bit as lethal as his ground game with Nelson, Mike Russow and Travis Browne all feeling his wrath. Hands, feet, elbows, knees and shins, Werdum’s evolution in the stand-up department has been astronomical and he could prove to be another stumbling block in Hunt’s quest for the UFC top spot.
Regardless of the task ahead, while Hunt watched as McCorkle twisted and contorted his arm, there was no way anyone could’ve seen him go on to fight for the heavyweight strap. Indeed, on November 15, ‘The Super Samoan’ will be one solid connection away from making his impossible dream a reality.
See more of Gian's work on his website.
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