UFC 144 breakdown: Hunt vs. Kongo

Mark Hunt (7-7) vs. Cheick Kongo (17-6-2)

In an exciting heavyweight battle, former Pride star Hunt returns to Japan to take on fellow knockout specialist Kongo.

Before his unlikely UFC debut in September 2010, Hunt’s career appeared to be on its last legs after suffering a five-fight losing streak, all of which ended in the first round.

Seeing a fighter on such a dramatic losing streak make his UFC debut is a rare occurrence, but Hunt insisted on completing the remaining fights on his Pride contract instead of collecting paychecks at home.

After a first-round submission loss to Sean McCorkle in his UFC debut, Hunt bounced back with victories over Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell. With his career all but over in 2008, Hunt has enjoyed a recent resurgence, which has him in the main-card slot on a major UFC pay-per-view event in 2012.

During his heyday in Japan, the former K-1 kickboxer earned wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

Now 37, the bulky New Zealander is hardly considered a contender in arguably the deepest heavyweight division of all time. However, the heavy-handed Samoan is always a knockout threat capable of putting anyone’s lights out with a single precise blow.

The 36-year-old Kongo has competed in the UFC for more than half-a-decade, defeating the likes of Matt Mitrione, Pat Barry and "Cro Cop."

The menacing Frenchman, a training partner of co-headliner "Rampage," recorded one of the most stunning come-from-behind knockouts of all time as he finished Barry last June.

At times, Kongo resembles a robotic striker who hesitates to take chances and awaits opportunities to counter. Evidenced by his bout with Mitrione this past October, this style isn’t always the recipe for a fan-friendly fight.

Kongo’s wrestling has improved dramatically over the years and it likely will be his weapon of choice against Hunt. Kongo has excelled against mid- to low-tier opposition such as Paul Buentello and Mustapha Al Turk by taking them down to the mat and pounding them out with a heavy onslaught of ground-and-pound.

Hunt’s takedown defense could do him in. McCorkle had little trouble getting him down and finishing him with a straight armbar in his UFC debut.

Kongo’s massive frame and brute strength will be overwhelming as he will grab a hold of the 2001 K-1 World Grand prix champion and mount him with ease. A heavy storm of punches and elbows will follow, leading to the referee’s intervention in the first round.

Verdict: Kongo via TKO, Round 1