When Mark Hunt came over as the last remnants of the Pride deal it felt forced when he stepped into the UFC the first time to take on Sean McCorkle. Hunt had a pedigree, and one of the strongest fight resumes for a heavyweight to have outside the UFC, but he’d been on a substantial losing streak in which his fights all ended the same way: he’d get taken down and submitted fairly quickly. And the McCorkle fight ended the same way, shortly after it hit the ground, leaving Hunt owed fights but not showing much. He had a great pedigree, a K-1 World Grand Prix champion and Pride veteran who nearly submitted Fedor, but his takedown defense was awful and his submission defense somehow was even worse than that.
And then something magical happened: he learned just enough on the ground to be competent and has gone on a win streak of epic proportions.
Riding a four fight win streak, all via knockout, Hunt has somehow managed to find his way into the title mix at heavyweight in his late 30s. And now he steps up from guys just in the top 10 to perhaps the second best heavyweight in the world: Junior Dos Santos.
Fight Breakdown – Out of all the fights on this card this is the one I’m most excited for. It’s a crazy good matchup for all the right reasons: you’ve got perhaps the best boxer in MMA taking on one of the two fighters in the UFC to have won the K-1 World Grand Prix title.
Hunt’s style is simple and aggressive: he throws big haymakers and will take a dozen punches to land that lights out kill shot. His ability to fight this way comes from the toughest chin in combat sports; the only person to have done actual damage to Hunt in a fight has been Melvin Manhoef (the hardest hitter in combat sports) and plenty of big time bomb throwers haven’t been able to do anything to Hunt no matter how hard they throw. Trying to stand with Hunt and win requires a Carlos Condit, constant movement style where it’s more point accumulation than stand up war. Hunt excels in firefights because no one has his kind of artillery and defense; he’s a fan friendly brawler who hits like a mule. His kicking game is underrated, mainly because his hands do all the damage usually, and don’t expect Hunt to take it to the ground unless he’s completely gassed (like against Rothwell). Hunt is going to stand and bang first, second and twentieth because he has exceptional power and an even better chin.
But if there’s someone who could test the outermost limits of that chin it’s JDS.
Dos Santos has the best boxing in the division, and maybe in MMA, because he combines remarkable hand speed with extraordinary power. It’s why his road to the UFC heavyweight title was littered with big time knockouts over some tough outs in MMA: his ability to throw big shots with speed and precision. He has a BJJ black belt under the Nogueira brothers and has displayed some solid offensive wrestling against gassed opponents (i.e the Carwin fight) but isn’t a fan of taking it to the ground most times.
Oddly enough that’ll probably be his game plan, as even JDS is smart enough to not get into a firefight with Mark Hunt. He has the artillery, and has done so before against a similar opponent in Roy Nelson, but there are only so many wars you can be in as a fighter before it takes its toll. Look for JDS to keep his distance and go for takedowns when Hunt leaps in and over-commits to that big leaping left hook. He’ll run a similar plan to how he beat Nelson, which this fight will probably wind up duplicating: Hunt will eat a lot of punishment but not quit, JDS will gas by the end of the third by punching Hunt in the face and it’ll get a little bloody.
JDS won’t get into a protracted stand up battle if he doesn’t have to; if Hunt’s TDD keeps improving like it has in his past couple of fights he should be able to keep this standing. The Velasquez fight showed that JDS is tough, and can take a prolonged ass-kicking without quitting, but that a big shot early can take the wind out of his sails. Look for Hunt to try and land something big early, to rock him to the point where he can take over and press the cage position. Hunt has shown the ability to knock out guys who hadn’t been knocked out before and JDS needs to use movement to avoid taking the hooks that Hunt puts guys away with.
It’ll be interesting to see if JDS goes to the clinch with Hunt, something he’s had success in the past with. Hunt is remarkably strong, physically, and works strongly out of that position as well. Hunt’s ability to work the body is something he doesn’t do a lot but that sort of power to the ribs can be a game-changer, especially early.
Why it matters – Hunt gets a title shot with a win here, especially with a knockout, which much we can probably imagine happening with a great sell by Zuffa. Werdum can argue for one with a win over Big Nog, as well, but Hunt’s win streak could arguably hold up better. It’d be a remarkable career turnaround: brought in purely for contractual purposes, the aging veteran with nothing to lose has become the fighter no one wants to take on. Hunt’s becoming a tough out in the heavyweight division, mainly because his chin allows him to shrug off strikes that would put down a lot of fighters. If he can win here he becomes one of the great sports stories of the past couple years: MMA would have its own Cinderella Man.
JDS can earn a title shot as well here, despite having just fought (and lost) it recently, because the division is really Cain, JDS and everyone else. JDS and Cain are also 1-1, with both earning hellacious wins in the process, thus a trilogy fight makes all sorts of sense as well.
The big x-factor coming into play will be how JDS handles his rebound from losing the title. He just didn’t lose to Cain Velasquez; Cain starched him for five rounds in a way that could break a lot of fighters mentally. JDS took the kind of beating that snatches the soul right out of you and how he comes back will tell us a lot about where he is as a fighter. Its one thing to lose by a flash KO, et al, but it’s another to be mauled by another man to the point where you look like Rocky Dennis immediately thereafter.
How he rebounds from that is going to be the key to the rest of his career. Does that loss still haunt him and winds up being similar to Frank Trigg losing to GSP in destructive fashion? Or does it wind up reinvigorating him, turning him into a better version of the fighter he was?
Prediction – JDS