Mark Hunt shouldn't be mad at Dana White or the UFC

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Mark Hunt was to face Marcin Tybura on Nov. 19, but the UFC has pulled him from the event. (Getty)
Mark Hunt was to face Marcin Tybura on Nov. 19, but the UFC has pulled him from the event. (Getty)

In the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” the captain says to Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

That line also pretty well sums up the situation between the UFC and heavyweight contender Mark Hunt.

Hunt is no longer going to fight Marcin Tybura in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card on Nov. 19 in Sydney, Australia, due to what the UFC called “medical concerns.”

Those concerns were raised in a column Hunt wrote for PlayersVoice, an Australian website similar to The Player’s Tribune in the U.S. In it, Hunt wrote that he stutters and slurs his words and that his memory is not good. He said he can remember things that happened long ago, but not what happened yesterday.

“That’s just the price I’ve paid,” Hunt wrote of his plight. “The price of being a fighter.”

He spent most of his column ripping fighters who use performance-enhancing drugs and the UFC for not doing enough to prevent it.

After he was pulled from the card, Hunt was apoplectic and took to Instagram, where he posted a profane rant against UFC president Dana White which featured four F-words and threatened the UFC with another lawsuit.

Whatever Hunt’s grievances are against the UFC, this isn’t one of them. If a fighter is slurring his words, if he can’t remember what he had for breakfast, if he struggles to sleep and admits it in a public forum, the promoter has no choice.

Hunt stated in another Instagram post that he was “misquoted” in the PlayersVoice story. Regardless, the story left the UFC no choice: it had to – had to – yank him from the card.

The correct course of action was to remove Hunt from the fight card and then to immediately put him through a comprehensive brain examination.

Hunt opens his column by writing, “I will probably end my life fighting.” He wrote in the third paragraph, “My body is [expletive].”

Fighters, like all professional and high-level amateur athletes, go through extraordinary amounts of pain in order to compete. Their bodies take an amount of abuse that often impacts them decades after their careers are over. The pain, and its impact, is very real and very common.

We accept those injuries, however, as a part of the cost of doing business in sports. Brain injuries, though, are another matter entirely. Many of us know someone – a relative, a close family friend – who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. They don’t recognize you. They don’t know their own names. They can’t control their bodily functions. They become entirely dependent upon others to live the remainder of their days.

And these are the effects of a disease, not from being punched and kicked in the head for years by some of the best-trained and most skilled fighters in the world. Thousands of fighters have died while fighting. Countless others have been permanently impaired, the result of far too much contact on a brain not designed to handle repeated kicks and punches over a decade or more.

No sporting event, no matter how exciting it promises to be, no matter how many zeroes on the paycheck, is worth that.

The risk is too great.

UFC President Dana White did the right thing pulling Mark Hunt from his Nov. 19 bout. (Reuters)
UFC President Dana White did the right thing pulling Mark Hunt from his Nov. 19 bout. (Reuters)

The thrust of Hunt’s column, that many fighters cheat and that there should be penalties for those who do, is difficult if not impossible to argue against.

Prior to the UFC’s decision to hire USADA to administer what is now the best anti-doping plan in sports, it would have been comical if it weren’t so sad and disgusting how many UFC fighters were artificially enhanced.

White regularly met with reporters in those days and I repeatedly questioned him about a lack of drug testing. Eventually, the UFC did the right thing and began a comprehensive drug-test program.

The thing is, it worked the way it is supposed to work in the fight that Hunt is most angry about, his 2016 match at UFC 200 with Brock Lesnar. Prior to that fight, Hunt voiced suspicions about Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE wrestler.

According to USADA’s UFC website, Lesnar was tested eight times between June 4, 2016 (when he signed to fight in the UFC) until July 9, the date of the fight. He was tested once every four days in that span.

And, it turns out, wisely so, because he was caught with PEDs in his system. The problem is that even though PEDs turned up in his system, the results of his test did not come back until after the fight.

The UFC pulled Jon Jones out of the main event of that card, and would have had no hesitation to do so if the Lesnar results had come in on time. But the results are not rushed, because the hope is to keep them completely anonymous and that those examining the samples won’t have any idea whose blood and/or urine it is they’re testing.

But when the results didn’t come back in time, Lesnar was allowed to compete and defeated Hunt. It also set up a massive issue for the UFC. The public perception, understandably though incorrectly, was that the UFC covered up the results of Lesnar’s test so as to make certain he could compete in the big show.

The truth is that the sample simply went through the system the way any other would. If you had a blood and/or urine sample taken as part of a job application, for example, it would have been handled by the lab exactly the same way the lab handled Lesnar’s.

But that failure led to Hunt’s lawsuit against the UFC and the threat of another.

He’s clearly suspicious of the promotion after what happened with Lesnar. In his column, he wrote, “I’ve fought some big guys but Brock is only 6-foot-3 and he’s still three times my size. How does that work? If I was gearing the same as him I probably would have thrown him out of the Octagon. It isn’t about the loss because I accept losses. It’s about what’s fair.”

But Hunt’s issues with MMA’s very real PED problem obfuscates the facts in the matter at hand.

If one is noticeably slurring words and his/her short-term memory is badly diminished, there is no way an athletic commission or a promoter should allow that person to compete.

It’s playing with fire.

Before Hunt competes again, he needs to complete an exhaustive series of tests that prove his fitness to fight. Failing to do that, he shouldn’t be allowed to fight again.

It’s harsh, but it’s the only way other than eliminating the sport entirely to prevent what is, in almost every case, a preventable death or traumatic brain event.

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