UFC Heavyweight Mark Hunt was already an accomplished kickboxer when he first entered mixed martial arts. Hunt had already won multiple K-1 Grand Prixs, including the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2001, and mounted a K-1 record of 30 wins and 12 losses heading into Pride Critical Countdown 2004. Unfortunately, Hunts baptism into mixed martial arts didn’t go as planned. Hunt was submitted by Hidehiko Yoshida via armbar less than six minutes into round 1.
One loss was all it took for Hunt to get used to the sport. Hunt would go on a four fight winning streak that would include two knockout wins and a pair of split decisions over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko ‘Crocop’ Filipovic. The winning streak landed him an invite in the Pride Openweight Grand Prix to face Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. Hunt was able to overwhelm Kohsaka with strikes 4:15 into the second round and advance into the Quarterfinals against Josh Barnett.
This was a turning point in Hunt’s career. Barnett would essentially expose Hunt and lay out the game plan on how to beat him. Barnett would take Hunt down early in the fight and secure a kimura and get the submission win. Hunt was then called to fight legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko for the Pride Heavyweight Championship. Although it was a back and forth fight, it was Fedor who was able to reverse positions on the floor, and secure a kimura on Hunt.
The Pride bouts exposed Hunt to a tremendous amount of MMA fans in Japan, and around the world. Hunt was on a few pretty large cards that would exceed the 40k mark for attendance. For example, just under 49,000 people were at the Saitama Sports Arena when he fought Fedor, but unfortunately it would be the last time Hunt would fight under the Pride banner. Pride would only hold two more cards and basically implode. Pride would again play a key role in Hunt’s career later down the road.
Hunt remained in Japan fighting in the Dream organziation. He would fight three times under the Dream banner, but he would never get a win. In almost short order, spanning across the late summer of 2008 to the early Spring of 2009, Hunt would lose to Alistair Overeem via keylock in at 1:11 of round 1, to Melvin Manhoef by knockout at :18 of round 1, and to Gegard Mousasi by armbar at 1:20 of round 1. While Hunt ran into some tough guys and bad luck in the ring, some good luck was developing outside of the ring.
Zuffa, parent company to the UFC, had bought up the remaining pieces of Pride Fighting that included the fight library and several contracts. According to UFC President Dana White, the plan for Hunt was that the company would just buy out his contract and pay him whatever he would have made for the remaining fight he had on his deal. However, Hunt would insist that he be given a fight in the UFC, and White respected that. Check out what Dana had to say about Hunt and some of his highlights.
Courtesy of Mark Hunt:
Hunt fought Sean McCorkle at UFC 119, and in almost a mirror performance of his fight with Mousasi, Hunt was submitted early in the first round by armbar. When the UFC returned to fight in Sydney, Australia at UFC 127, Hunt would take on Chris Tuchscherer and earn himself a knockout of the night bonus for his performance. He carried that momentum to win a gutsy unanimous decision over Ben Rothwell at UFC 135 and to two technical knockout wins over Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve. Not only would both of those fights take place in Japan, where Hunt first began his career, but he would pick up another knockout of the night bonus for his work on Struve.
The Struve win would lead to an opportunity to take on former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. Overeem pulled out of the match because of an injury he sustained in training, and Hunt took his place. The UFC announced that the winner would get a crack at the heavyweight title. In a three round war, Dos Santos landed a spinning heel kick to the side of Hunt’s sending him to the octagon floor late in the third round. After a flurry of strikes, the fight and Hunt’s winning streak were brought to a screeching hault. The fight was an early candidate for fight of the year, and the bout earned the fight of the night award.
Hunt faces Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva on December 7th in the main event at UFC Fight Night 33.
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