Mark Hunt is not a man easily deterred, or intimidated. Give him only 25 days to prepare to fight a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with ever-improving striking, put the bout 8,000 feet above sea level, and tell Hunt he has to lose 35 or so pounds in less than a month to make weight, and he’ll lightly laugh it off.
No big deal.
Except, of course, that it is.
In one of the strangest turns in one of the UFC’s strangest years, Hunt – a 40-year-old the UFC tried hard to cut a couple of years back, a guy with a record barely above .500, a guy who hasn’t won back-to-back fights in 19 months, a guy who competes as if he believes the ground game is helping his knocked-down opponent off the canvas – is fighting for a version of the UFC’s heavyweight title.
Isn’t this world great?
Velasquez has everything to be one of the greatest fighters in the history of this sport, except the ability to stay healthy.
Velasquez tore his MCL in training last month and, after trying to push through it, had to pull out. With few options, the UFC turned to Hunt, who ballooned to more than 300 pounds not long after he disposed of Roy Nelson with a blistering right uppercut in the second round in September.
Into the breech stepped Hunt, who had no qualms about taking the bout against Werdum despite his weight, despite the short time to prepare and despite the quality of his opposition.
“These kinds of opportunities don’t come around too often,” Hunt said. “Any fighter would jump at this opportunity, not just me. If you say no to this, then you’re not really a fighter after all.”
Hunt flew to Mexico from his home in Australia the next day after agreeing to the deal. Much of the pre-fight talk has centered on how Hunt will possibly be able to make weight and be in the kind of shape he needs to be to handle the evolving Werdum.
But there is a sense of a little sand-bagging here. Hunt eagerly talked about his weight, and how he was more than 35 pounds over the UFC heavyweight division’s 265-pound limit for a title fight.
Count UFC president Dana White among those who believe it’s all a smoke screen.
Now, it’s true that as a promoter, it’s White’s job to make every fight seem as if it might be the best one ever, and he has to build a case for guys like Hunt when the public might not be buying the idea of him as a credible challenger.
But White has been around the fight game for a quarter century, and he’s of the belief that Hunt is in a good position for this fight.
“People talk about his [lack of] conditioning, but this guy just came off training for a five-round fight,” White said. “He fought that fight [against Nelson] Sept. . We called him back in the middle of October. He accepted the fight and was in Mexico, I believe, two days later. It’s not a bad thing; it’s a good thing. He trained for a five-round camp. He fought that fight, got out of it with no injuries, came out of it pretty quick, took three weeks off and jumped back into it. He’s been in Mexico acclimating to the altitude for three weeks.