In the sport of mixed martial arts, there comes a time in a fighter’s career where the fans feel that he has to prove to them that he is still relevant. Some have succeeded, and more have failed. Fighters like Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz have made drastic career changes and ultimately ended up as champions after their unfortunate slumps. For men like Chuck Liddell though, some have to be forced out of the octagon after getting knocked on their bottoms one too many times.
Mark Hunt has already started to turn his career around. After walking into a McCorkle submission in his UFC debut, Mark Hunt went 3-0 including a dominating victory over former UFC Heavyweight Title contender Cheick Kongo. Despite all that, thousands of fans were crying foul at the thought of Hunt fighting for the UFC Heavyweight Title in May. His less than stellar record in the past is what was fueling their fire; they didn’t want to see a man who is 4-6 in his last 10 fights.
While there was endless bickering back and forth between supporters of the main-event and the protestors on internet forums and Twitter, Mark Hunt wasn’t phased by the conflicting side of the argument one bit, and he shouldn’t have been. This was not the first time that Hunt would be labeled as an underdog, undeserving to be in the octagon with a fighter of higher-caliber. Hunt has shut up the naysayers in the past and beat adversity, and if he was given the opportunity by Dana White in May, he would have done it again.
In what used to be the most prestigious kickboxing organization in the world, the stage for the annual World Grand Prix tournament was set. In the quarterfinals, favorite Jerome Le Banner was to go toe-to-toe with Mark Hunt. Le Banner was one of the favorites to win the whole tournament that year as he was on a tear (didn’t lose since 1999) defeating legendary names like Peter Aerts, Adam Watt and Ernesto Hoost, handily. Throw in the fact that Le Banner squashed Hunt a year before by way of decision and the odds were heavily stacked in Le Banner’s favor.
After watching Le Banner be the aggressor in the first round, Hunt turned the tables in the second and started head hunting. It wasn’t long before Hunt connected with a devastating left that knocked Le Banner loopy, allowing Hunt to connect with heavy punches before the referee called a stop to the fight. As Hunt walked away, Le Banner crumbled to the ground.
With a decorated record in kickboxing where he defeated the likes of Jerome Le Banner and Francisco Filho, Hunt decided to make the sensible transition to MMA. After getting submitted by a gold-medal judoka, then defeating an NCAA Division III wrestler, Hunt was thrown into the ring as a last minute replacement for Kazushi Sakuraba against none other than Wanderlei Silva.
Wanderlei Silva was known as “The Axe Murderer” for a reason: He murdered any and all competition. Leading up to the Hunt fight at PRIDE Shockwave 2004, Silva was undefeated within 18 fights. The Japanese loyal and fans in America watching on pay-per-view dismissed the thought of Hunt winning and thought he was a ridiculous last minute replacement. Long story short, Mark Hunt wasn’t supposed to win. The only thing he had going for him was a favorable difference in size.
Mark Hunt walked into the ring that night without one sign of doubt in his eyes. The stare down between the two was different from all others Wanderlei Silva had before because his opponent didn’t look phased by the “Axe Murderer’s” scare tactics. The two fought a close battle that saw both competitors take serious punishment, but it was Hunt’s size advantage that gave him the upper hand throughout the fight. Hunt shocked MMA fans around the world when he absorbed Wanderlei Silva’s punishment and kept pushing forward. Hunt walked away from the ring with his hands raised after earning the unanimous decision victory.
Put Mark Hunt and Cheick Kongo side by side and it was easy see who the media portrayed as the favorite. Simply put, Cheick Kongo looks like a super hero. He has muscles in places where I don’t even have flesh. When it was announced that he would be fighting Mark Hunt in Japan at UFC 144, it was easy to see why Kongo was already being touted as the future victor of the bout. Along with the impressive physique, Kongo was just coming off an impressive two-fight win streak.
Cheick Kongo walked into the octagon as a -300 favorite. To put it into perspective as to how heavy of a favorite he was, that means you would have to bet $300 to win a mere $100. Bookies make some accurate odds, but at the end of the day it’s the warriors inside the octagon who decide their fate.
Kongo looked to push the pressure early on by pressing Hunt into the cage, but Hunt was prepared and got out of the situation before it even started. After feeling each other out for a little bit, Hunt threw the first serious strike of the fight and it connected— a left hook that sent Kongo flopping to the ground. Hunt showed patience, and as if it was a kickboxing fight, let Kongo back to his feet. Hunt smelled the blood, started stalking, faked a left straight and connected a hard right hook with a thud. Kongo stepped back, but all was lost for him. Hunt was on Kongo like a fat kid on cake and was eventually pulled away from Kongo by the referee, ruling Hunt the winner by knockout.
Later that night at the press conference, Hunt asked to fight on the Australia card the very next weekend. Seriously, how would you NOT support the Rally For Hunt?