Last Call – Mark Hunt’s Stock is on the Rise

Mark Hunt was born “down to fight,” and that has made his stock go way up.

It’s hard not to feel good for Mark Hunt. In fact, it’s even harder to believe a story like his is unfolding right before our eyes. Hollywood doesn’t imagine scenarios as rich as these. The Super Samoan is riding a four-fight winning streak, which is best among UFC heavyweights. By the time he steps in the Octagon to face Junior dos Santos at UFC 160, he’ll be 39 years old. His professional MMA record is a fairly pedestrian 9-7.

Yet, in spite of all of that, only dos Santos stands in his way for a title shot. It barely seems possible. How did Hunt get to this point?

Let’s just say his rise has been…improbable.

By now you’ve heard of his K-1 achievements. In the late 1990s, the New Zealander began kickboxing professionally. He ended up winning the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2001 and amassed a 30-12 record between 1999-2003. His style gained him a lot of recognition, and because of it, he segued into mixed martial arts in 2004. After losing his first fight against Hidehiko Yoshida in Pride, he won five in a row (including split decisions over Pride legends Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro-Cop in the same night).

Then he lost five in a row. And he didn’t just lose—he was finished in every fight. For all his power standing, his submission defense was non-existent. His classic battle with Fedor Emelianenko became a microcosm of his career. He went for an americana (yes!) and ended up tapping to a kimura (no!).

That’s when the UFC purchased Pride, and Hunt—on a spiraling losing streak and sporting a 5-6 record—was lumped into the paperwork.

“When we bought Pride, he came as part of the Pride deal,” Dana White said of the 2007 transaction. “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.’ Let me tell you what, man, he did it.”
He did, but it wasn’t pretty at first. The UFC threw him in the cage against Sean McCorkle at UFC 119, and it was yet another atrocious showing. McCorkle submitted Hunt in a little over a minute with an armbar (and armbars by that point were the bane of his existence). He’d now lost six fights in a row—all of them finishes, none of them inspiring. He looked cooked.

That was in 2010.

Here we are in 2013, and he hasn’t lost since. Only in MMA, right?

He beat Brock Lesnar’s old training partner, Chris Tuchscherer, with a punch. He decisioned Ben Rothwell at UFC 135 in Denver in a battle of first-round fireworks and third-round exhaustion. Then he upset Cheick Kongo at UFC 144 in Japan, socking him with a barrage of wicked strikes. That all led up to his fight with Stefan Struve, who left his chin open for business and paid for it. Hunt threw a left bomb that fractured Struve’s jaw. Suddenly, from nowhere, Mark Hunt is a contender.

When Alistair Overeem had to be scratched from his fight with dos Santos in May, the chants of Mark Hunt’s name were loud enough that the UFC heard them. He Tweeted that he was born down to fight, and that he’d gladly step in. From his native New Zealand to Japan to America, the fans love them some Mark Hunt. The fans wanted it, and the UFC obliged. The fight was made shortly thereafter. Now, Hunt is in the penultimate spot in the heavyweight division, against a guy who loves to stand and trade.

It all feels too good to be true.

Hunt has become the best story going in the UFC. What a crazy story it is. It’s not exactly a resurrection, because Hunt never was. It hasn’t been a meteoric rise up the ranks, so much as a slow, plodding rampage through limbs and skulls. His is a story of perseverance. His is a story that’s still being told, in a good-natured Kiwi accent. Will he get a title shot in 2013? It’s possible.

Thinking about Mark Hunt’s incredible streak, it feels like anything is possible.

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