Hunt, Silva and Shogun show us how fights that don’t matter can matter so much
Two nights ago, UFC president Dana White joined FOX Sports Live for a brief interview to cover some of the hot topics in MMA as well as discuss the upcoming fight card on Friday where the main event would pit Mark Hunt against Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva straight from Brisbane, Australia.
FOX Sports Live anchor Charissa Thompson, who tag teamed the interview with UFC Tonight co-host Chael Sonnen, jumped right into the main event and what kind of stakes were up for grabs when Silva, who was ranked as the No. 4 heavyweight in the world, took on Hunt in the headline bout on the card.
"So will the winner of this bout, Dana, be considered for a shot at the heavyweight title?", Thompson asked.
Now, the hardcore fan base recognized right away that in reality neither Hunt or Silva was going to sniff a title shot even with the greatest victory possible in this five round heavyweight showdown. Silva’s last fight against Cain Velasquez ended in pretty much identical fashion as the first time he faced the UFC heavyweight champion – being defeated by TKO in the first round. As for Mark Hunt, the journeyman fighter with a 9-8 career record going into the night, witnessed a groundswell of attention from the fans earlier this year touting him as a heavyweight contender but it all came crashing down courtesy of a spinning wheel kick knockout from former champion Junior Dos Santos in May of this year.
White’s response to the question pretty much answered where a win for either Silva or Hunt would land them in the title picture.
"I don’t know, that’s a tough question. We’ll see how it goes," White stated.
In other words despite their main event status, neither Hunt or Silva were going to get close to a shot at the reigning and defending heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez regardless of what happened on Friday, but by the time the night was over none of that mattered anyway.
Hunt at age 39, a veteran of more than 40 professional kickboxing bouts and another 17 MMA fights, somehow found the fortitude and toughness to gut out 25 full minutes inside the cage - for the first time ever mind you - while facing a larger and seemingly stronger opponent. On the other side of the cage was Silva, who is regularly touted as a submission fighter despite the fact that he hasn’t forced an opponent to tap out in over four years, going toe-to-toe, punch for punch against a fighter known for an impossibly hard head while possessing dynamite in both hands.
The way this fight was supposed to play out was simple - if it stays standing, Hunt has the advantage and if it goes to the ground, Silva will have his way like an animal toying with its food. The only problem was nothing happened like it was supposed to, and what resulted was a five round, instant classic with two heavyweight fighters just slugging it out for the joy of putting on an amazing show. This wasn’t a technical masterpiece where two fighters unleashed picture perfect punches thrown with surgical precision – this was a brawl where Silva and Hunt engaged in fisticuffs, devouring each other’s best shots and then asking for another helping.
Hunt was the fighter who dragged Silva to the mat, and Silva was the one who pushed forward time and again with relentless striking attacks. By the time the final horn sounded, both fighters were covered in a glistening mix of sweat and blood and a few minutes later when the decision was read and the fight was scored a draw, nobody seemed to care too much. This was a fight that deserved no loser because the amount of punishment these two men doled out on one another was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
In a sport where we sometimes too often ask for a magnum opus that looks like ‘The Sopranos’ – polished and gleaming with a perfect plot and articulate execution – it’s okay every now and again to just get The Walking Dead - a splatter filled shoot em up that defies logic and reason. That’s what we got out of Hunt and Silva and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
On the same night that Hunt and Silva were bombing away on each other like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fight Club, a former champion was stepping into a contest, ranked at No. 9 in the world but as an underdog to a 5-2 UFC fighter whose biggest career win inside the Octagon came over Igor Pokrajac in his debut bout with the promotion.
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, despite his legendary status, has seen better days. With a 2-4 record over his last six fights combined with a two fight losing streak, Rua was facing Te Huna without anything much on the line in terms of his standing in the division. Since losing the light heavyweight title to Jon Jones in 2011, Rua has never really been that close to earning another shot at the belt and with his 32 year old body closing in on 50 no one was sure what was left in the tank.
Even White, during that same interview with FOX Sports Live, questioned if Rua should even keep going if he wasn’t able to come away victorious against Te Huna on Friday night.
"If Shogun loses this fight, I don’t know, I probably would have that (retirement) conversation with him," White stated.
It took Rua a mere 63 seconds to answer White’s challenge as his left hand connected flush with Te Huna’s jaw, and as the New Zealand native fell to the mat knocked completely unconscious, the entire world gasped and immediately cheered ‘Shogun is back!’
"I heard some of the comments, but I try to not let this get (into my head) my emotional, my psychological state before the fight," Shogun said about White’s remarks after the win. "I saw that he put on Twitter after the fight that this was knockout of the century or something like that. I’m happy with my fight tonight."
The win was huge for Shogun as far as what comes next for him. A loss would have meant possible retirement or even a release from the UFC after three straight defeats. Now, Rua can keep going at light heavyweight, which judging by his post fight comments is what’s most likely to happen, or he could even consider a drop down to middleweight and try his luck there.
What we learned on Friday is that even when fights don’t necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things, they can still matter once the night is over.
Hunt and Silva may have just put on the greatest heavyweight battle in UFC history. It’s a fight that will sit right alongside Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson and Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez for the best fights of all 2013. Shogun’s knockout earned him a $50,000 bonus and a lot of possible matchups for his next fight after a night that started with all the talk being about his retirement.
UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Bigfoot didn’t have any belts on the line and there wasn’t a No. 1 contender in sight, but these fights mattered as much as any you’ll see all year and if you don’t believe me just ask Mark Hunt, Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva or Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua what Friday meant to them. That alone should answer any questions you might have.