UFC 135 at the Pepsi Center on September 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. via UFC.com
In the wake of UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage, there have been a number of dissenting viewpoints on the Heavyweight fight between Mark Hunt and Ben Rothwell. Some have called it an embarrassment, and a completely ridiculous fight with no business on the main card. For me, it was a highlight of the night. Why?
Two words: Mark Hunt.
The Super Samoan came into the fight on the heels of his first win in over five years. Before that, he'd been blown out of the water in four consecutive fights (five if you include his brief K-1 return in 2008). He'd shown poor ground defense, and a lack of improvement in this fundamental hole in his game.
But when he stepped in to face Ben Rothwell, I forgot all of that and rooted for him anyway. And I was not alone in that support, as the comments here at Bloody Elbow will show you. Fans who have seen Hunt in action pre-2006 still remember what he was once capable of. For newer fans, he's just that tubby guy who doesn't seem to belong in the UFC. But let's take a look at what made Hunt great.
Hunt started his career as a kickboxer in K-1, fighting primarily in regional shows in the Australia/New Zealand area. He had good successes early, winning regional K-1 tournaments and ultimately qualifying for the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix - the premiere event in kickboxing. Hunt came into that tournament the massive underdog, but put together three impressive wins in one night to take home the 2001 GP crown and stake his claim as the top heavyweight kickboxer in the world. He fought K-1 for two more years, finding success, but never achieving that same high point again.
In 2004, Hunt made the transition to MMA. Because of his K-1 status and popularity in Japan, he was immediately thrown into the deep end, debuting in Pride and facing no less than Wanderlei Silva just six months after his debut. Despite the significant experience gap, Hunt defeated Wanderlei, ending The Axe Murderer's 18 fight undefeated streak. Hunt went on to defeat Mirko CroCop - at the time the clear #2 Heavyweight in the world - before challenging Fedor Emelianenko in 2006. Hunt put in a good showing in the loss to Fedor, and at the close of Pride, had put together a solid 5-3 record against the highest level of Heavyweight opponents.
All of these accolades are important, but they don't paint the full picture of what makes Mark Hunt so great. That can be summarized easily: the fights. Mark Hunt has been in some all time classics, particularly in K-1 where more than one of his fights are held up as some of the best in the company's history.
If there's one fight to watch, it's Hunt's 2001 wild slugfest against Ray Sefo - who MMA fans may recognize from his recent Strikeforce fights, or his work as Vitor Belfort's trainer. The fight was under K-1 rules, but should absolutely appeal to MMA fans. At the time, Hunt was still a relative K-1 newcomer, while Sefo was already established as one of K-1's legends. The two men were both known for their knockout power, and their iron chins, and those two factors came together to create a true spectacle.
Watch the fight in the full entry.
MARK HUNT vs. RAY SEFO
October 8, 2001
K-1 Fukuoka Grand Prix
And that folks, is why I will always cheer Mark Hunt.
Here are my post-fight thoughts, again from Head Kick Legend:
To me, the sequence near the end of round 2 is everything great about combat sports. Both men have been throwing it all at each other, and seem to realize that their opponent is tough enough to absorb all their best shots. So what do they do? Smile, and just start throwing again. This is the kind of fight Dana White thinks he sees every week on TUF, but the reality is, while not an exceptionally technical fight, both men continue to use good technique and keep up the pace throughout, showing what sets them apart from your barroom brawlers of the world.
Of particular note here is the aftermath. Yes Sefo won, but he sustained injuries that caused him to drop out of the final match of the evening. Hunt stepped in, defeating Adam Watt to win a spot in the GP Finals where he pulled off the greatest upset in GP history, becoming the 2001 Grand Prix champion. For Sefo, this was perhaps his best shot at the title, as he has not made it back to the final match since. He will, in all likelihood, go down as one of the best K-1 fighters to never win a GP.