It’s been a long time since Mark Hunt found himself here, in the position of headlining a major mixed martial arts event. The last time it happened was nearly seven years ago, when he gave Fedor Emelianenko a scare before succumbing to a kimura submission at PRIDE’s 2006 year-end show.
"It’s been a while, yeah," Hunt told FOX Sports from the Grand Ballroom at the Brisbane Marriott Hotel. "Been a few ups and downs, but I’m happy to have the chance to do it again."
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For a while it seemed like he’d never get here again. The loss to Emelianenko was the second in a string of six straight. It got so bad that when the UFC bought PRIDE and acquired Hunt’s contract along with it, the promotion didn’t want him. Instead, they offered to buy him out of his deal. But money for nothing is not Hunt’s way, and he insisted upon earning the cash they were about to dole out. After a loss in his first UFC fight, he rebounded with a late career streak of four straight wins, including three knockouts.
The surge resounded with fans who rallied to his underdog story, and even a third-round knockout loss to Junior dos Santos in his last fight hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the Samoan slugger.
At Saturday’s UFC Fight Night (which airs on primetime in Friday in the U.S.), Hunt attempts to begin anew. Facing current No. 4 heavyweight Antonio Silva, he has the chance to quickly reinsert himself into the discussion of the division’s best. It’s an opportunity he clearly didn’t see coming.
"I just got chopped up in Vegas. I lost," he said. "I always fight hard. It’s one of those things. When you lose a fight, it’s one of those things where you don’t know what’s coming next."
If he hits you in the head, you’re probably going to die.
"If he hits you in the head, you’re probably going to die,” added Pat Barry, another heavyweight on the card. “Not be unconscious. It’s over. Play the horn, it’s over with.”
This time around, he won’t be facing someone with the standup prowess of dos Santos, but a giant that likes the clinch and groundwork. And if Hunt can emphasize his striking strength, he has the standup ability to upset someone a few rungs above him and reignite the Cinderella run that refuses to end.
"Hopefully this moves me closer to the title," he said. "A win this weekend will move me closer, and I can continue to fight at a top level."