By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly
In what could be the fight with the most fireworks set for New Year’s Eve, now fighting in his 20th Pride show, Mirko CroCop will face Mark Hunt, an old foe from their days fighting in K-1. This showdown has long been rumored and now two of the best stand-up fighters in mixed martial arts are set to square off in a main event caliber fight.

It’s hard to remember that not so long ago Mirko CroCop was a top ranked fighter in the K-1 organization, making it as far as a finalist in the K-1 Grand Prix in 2000. Now the former Croation police officer makes his living as a top ranked fighter in Pride, transitioning from an outstanding kickboxer to a very well rounded mixed martial artist.

One of the busiest fighters on the planet, CroCop is never one to back down from a challenge. After suffering a very tough defeat at the hands of current Pride heavyweight champion, Fedor Emelianenko in August, CroCop didn’t take time off to reflect on the loss or recover from a 3 round war with a fighter many regard as the best pound for pound fighter ever, he got right back on the horse so to speak and stepped up to fight another high ranked fighter in Josh Barnett in October.

CroCop held a win over Barnett already, but most saw that as a freak injury sustained by Barnett and although any win is good, a rematch was inevitable. This time around CroCop, despite looking like he has lost a fair amount of weight before the bout leading some to speculate that he may have been dealing with some sickness prior to the fight, came out ready to go to battle with Barnett. And battle they did.

This time around CroCop left nothing to chance and was able to bang out a very good decision win over Barnett and again place himself at the top of the rankings of the heavyweight division.

His opponent in this New Year’s Eve showdown is still relatively new to the mixed martial arts scene, although fans of K-1 are very familiar with New Zealand’s Mark Hunt.

Hunt has reached the pinnacle of the sport of kickboxing capturing the prestigious K-1 Grand Prix championship in 2001. While his career spans quite a few years now, Hunt’s win in 2001 was monumental and put him among the all time elite fighters to ever compete in K-1.

Now Mark Hunt moves from K-1 to Pride where he wants to attempt to do exactly what CroCop has done and succeed in MMA as well. Hunt’s first test out was a fight against Japanese hero and Olympic gold medalist, Hidehiko Yoshida, and unfortunately for all the great stand-up skill that Hunt possessed it was lacking a ground game that lost him the fight, causing him to lose by armbar in the first round.

Hunt came back to Pride for his second fight this time against MMA journeyman and former King of the Cage champion Dan “The Bull” Bobish. While neither man could be seen as a technical MMA fighter, it was Bobish who had experience on his side and for the better part of the first round he got the better of Mark Hunt. It was a lack of stamina that cost Bobish his advantage in the fight, allowing Mark Hunt room to come back in the fight and a TKO victory.

In Hunt’s last fight he took on Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva at the New Year’s Eve show in 2004. Despite having over a 50lb weight advantage, Hunt was put down by Silva a few times during the fight, but in the end he was able to gain enough of an advantage throughout the rounds to get a split decision win.

Now Mark Hunt will look to avenge a loss suffered at Mirko CroCop’s hands in K-1. While it was a decision loss, Mark Hunt, who has one of the best chins in the business, was dropped by CroCop during the fight, and wasn’t able to recover enough to pull out a victory.

CroCop has to be looking at this fight as just another rung on the ladder for him to climb to get another title shot, and while he has an obvious experience edge in MMA, it’s not likely that either man will be looking for a ground fight, and that evens the score in this match because for as much trouble as Hunt has seemingly had transitioning his game to MMA, he is still a very dangerous opponent for anyone who chooses to stand with him.

Mark Hunt has somehow crept onto the radar of a lot of fans and critics as a top ten heavyweight, but only a decisive win over someone the caliber of Mirko CroCop will truly make anyone stand up and notice him as a MMA fighter worthy of paying attention to. While a few former K-1 standouts have tried to make the move to MMA, only Mirko CroCop has had a great deal of success thus far.

This fight very well may be two of the best stand-up fighters ever slugging it out for a few rounds, but with the difference in the size and weight of the gloves that they wear in Pride, it’s not likely. What is more likely is someone being knocked out in this fight. CroCop’s chin has come into question in the past but that mostly comes from his loss to Kevin Randleman and few fighters could have taken that same shot and not been knocked out. Mark Hunt’s calling card seems to be his ability to take a shot but no one has been able to take a flush shot from CroCop’s left high kick and lived to tell about it (so to speak).

While both of the finals from the Grand Prix tournaments will be taking place on the same card, this could be the best fight of the entire show. Both CroCop and Hunt will be looking to put themselves in line for a title shot and a win in this fight will go a long way to proving that very fact.