Junior dos Santos wanted a fight at UFC 160 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday.
It really could have been anybody — not just his scheduled foe, Mark Hunt.
“I’d prefer a new opponent (if Hunt couldn’t fight),” dos Santos told FOXSports.com through a translator last week. “I’ve worked very hard during training camp. I spent the money on training camp. I hope that I fight Mark Hunt, but if he can’t fight, I’d like a new opponent.”
Hunt finally got his visa issues worked out and was allowed to leave his native New Zealand for Las Vegas on Monday. He had been denied a visa by the US State Department several times in recent weeks related to an assault arrest more than a decade ago.
This will be the first time dos Santos, a former UFC heavyweight champ, has faced Hunt, who knocked out Stefan Struve in spectacular fashion at UFC on FUEL TV 8 in March.
A victory over Hunt in Saturday’s co-main event could give dos Santos a familiar opponent. (UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez would also have to beat Antonio Silva in the main event at UFC 160.) The winner between dos Santos-Hunt has been guaranteed a title shot.
Dos Santos won his first meeting with Velasquez at UFC on FOX 1 in November 2011, wresting the belt in the process. Velasquez battered dos Santos in the rematch for five rounds to regain the belt at UFC 155 in December.
“I’m not sure how many times I’ll face Cain,” dos Santos said. “Cain is a quality opponent. He’s tough. We are both at the top of the division, so I think we are going to face each other several times.”
Dos Santos said on a recent conference call with reporters that he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“Yes, it’s a motivation,” dos Santos said of a possible third fight against Velasquez. “I don’t think about that right now. Right now I’m focused on my fight against Mark Hunt. It will be great to have a title shot again if I beat Mark Hunt. For sure that motivates me but it’s not what I’m thinking about now.”
And dos Santos doesn’t have to think about a cancelled fight or a new opponent. Roy Nelson, who beat Cheick Kongo at UFC 159 last month, was a potential replacement for Hunt, FOXSports.com learned. Dos Santos had beaten Nelson at UFC 117 in August 2010.
Hunt is a fan favorite known for his knockout power, using his fists to KO three of his prior four opponents. The exception during his four-match winning streak was a decision over Ben Rothwell.
“For sure Mark Hunt has a lot of experience,” dos Santos said. “He’s incredibly dangerous. I respect him a lot. That’s why I’ve been training so hard. It was the most difficult training camp I’ve ever had. I’m coming in here prepared for this fight.”
And despite a prolonged customs process, dos Santos will get that fight.