The Ultimate Fighting Championship didn’t want Mark Hunt and offered to pay him to go away, but Hunt knew something the UFC didn’t; he was a top heavyweight in the world despite his Pride FC record.
UFC president Dana White explained following the UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz pre-fight press conference on Thursday how Hunt went from unwanted to being one punch away from a title fight.
“(UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva was doing the deal to sign Mark Hunt for the (Junior dos Santos) fight. They were going back and forth, and Joe Silva called and said they turned down the fight. There’s a lot of different ways you can turn down a fight,” said White.
“I ended up calling Mark Hunt. When I talked to him, he was upset about a lot of things, a lot of things I didn’t know about. We talked. We had a good conversation. Then I called him back and fixed some of the things he was talking about, and now he’s back and we ended up getting the fight done.”
Hunt felt disrespected and unwanted, and rightfully so.
“There were a lot of things that he was upset about. One of the big things that happened with Mark Hunt was he felt very disrespected and felt like he never really belonged here because recently when we did this Pride deal, he had a contract in place with Pride. We didn’t want to bring him into the UFC because he had a losing record in Pride. We didn’t want to bring him into the UFC, so we said, listen, we’ll pay you the money and you can ride off in the sunset at the end of the day. He was like, ‘(expletive) that. I want to be paid to fight. I want to come in and fight.’ First of all, a losing record, his age, everything. The guy hadn’t fought in a long time. It was like it makes no sense to bring this guy in,” explained the UFC president.
“He fought it and fought it and fought it. Finally we said, fine. You want to earn the money and fight anybody, come on in. Since that day, how we didn’t want him and have him basically go away, he took incredible offense to that and then never really felt like he fit or belonged here. I understand that,” he added.
“I said I’m going to fix the things that have made you feel this way. I understand why you feel this way and I’m sorry that this happened to you. We do respect you, and I think you’re one of the best stories in sports right now to be honest with you. It took a couple of days. I got everything worked out, and now he’s ecstatic and happy, and I’m happy that I could do it,” said White.
Hunt was on a five-fight losing streak when he made his UFC debut against Sean McCorkle at UFC 119 in September 2010. He was submitted by McCorkle in just over a minute, but the UFC didn’t release him from contract.
“We just didn’t cut him. We kept him. Now imagine had we cut him,” reflected White.
“Even though we weren’t wrong, we ended up being wrong. He proved us wrong. He proved anyone who doubted him wrong.”
Since the loss to McCorkle, Hunt has gone on a four-fight winning streak, finishing three of the four opponents by knockout. He earned Knockout of the Night honors in his last outing at UFC on Fuel TV 8: Silva vs. Stann on March 3, breaking Stefan Struve’s jaw in the process.
Hunt faces dos Santos at UFC 160 on May 25, from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. A win over dos Santos will put Hunt in line for a UFC title fight.
“If he knocks Junior dos Santos out, I mean, how is this guy not next in line? It would be crazy to think that he couldn’t,” said White.
Asked if the Hunt vs. dos Santos fight is a No. 1 contender bout, White answered, “I would have to say yeah.”