Fan favorite Mark Hunt finally gets crack at (interim) UFC heavyweight title

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Fan favorite Mark Hunt finally gets crack at (interim) UFC heavyweight title
Fan favorite Mark Hunt finally gets crack at (interim) UFC heavyweight title

Mark Hunt's life story is turning into a movie before our eyes.

Four years ago, Hunt was at home, unwanted by the UFC, forgotten by the fans. The massive striker who'd won the K1 World Grand Prix kickboxing championship in 2001 had lost five mixed martial arts fights in a row and seemed on a fast track to nowhere.

All of them had ended in the first round. Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko submitted him in 2006 with a Kimura. Alistair Overeem forced a tap with a keylock and Melvin Manhoef stopped him with strikes in 2008.

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Gegard Mousasi submitted him with an arm bar in 2009.

Four of the five losses were 2:02 or less. The UFC owned his contract following its purchase of PRIDE, but White had no interest in Hunt.

Hunt, though, didn't want to sit at home and collect money for doing nothing. He's a fighter and fighters fight. When White told him the UFC didn't want him, Hunt fought back. He argued with White and asked for a chance.

After a long back-and-forth, White relented and gave Hunt a shot at UFC 119. Hunt then promptly went out and was submitted by Sean McCorkle just 63 seconds into his UFC debut on Sept. 25, 2010.

Antonio 'Big Foot' Silva connects against Mark Hunt during their epic December 2013 fight. (Getty)
Antonio 'Big Foot' Silva connects against Mark Hunt during their epic December 2013 fight. (Getty)

Four years later, White picked up the phone and called Hunt again. This time, he needed Hunt to save his show. Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez got hurt in training, suffering a right knee injury that will keep him out of competition until sometime next year, and the mega-show that the UFC was planning was suddenly in trouble.

With only about three weeks until the fight at Mexico City Arena, White had to act quickly when he learned of Velasquez's setback. He offered the bout opposite Fabricio Werdum to Hunt, who was both eager and available.

"I said yes before he even got the question out," Hunt told Yahoo Sports during a brief telephone interview on Tuesday.

Hunt said he weighs "137 kilos, maybe even 138." And then he laughed and said, "No big deal."

Translated to pounds, Hunt weighs a little over 300 now with three-and-a-half weeks before the weigh-in when he has to make 265 pounds on the nose.

That, though, didn't deter him. Hunt loves nothing more than a good fight, and one with big stakes makes it all the better.

"You don't say no to this kind of opportunity," Hunt said. "This is an amazing opportunity and even though I'm not in fight shape or anything, there was never a doubt I was going to take it."

The card is the UFC's first in Mexico, and it was built around Velasquez. The heavyweight champion means so much to the UFC in his home country and throughout Latin America that while he was rehabilitating from left shoulder surgery, White held off on putting a card in Mexico. Velasquez was the UFC's biggest Spanish-speaking star and White repeatedly said the UFC wouldn't go to the country without him.

But fate dealt Velasquez another difficult hand and White had no choice but to find a replacement, because canceling or postponing the show was not an option at such a late date.

So now in steps this unlikely 40-year-old, one who has been beaten in the first round of seven fights overall, coming in dramatically at the last moment to save the show.

And while most would agree that Werdum has the far better all-around game, no one is discounting Hunt's chance to win and earn the interim belt.

"What he has done, and is doing now at 40 years old, is in my opinion, the greatest story in sports," UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. "His record was upside down. He wasn't looking that great. He was on a long losing streak. It didn't make sense for us to bring him in given his record and how things were going for him.

Mark Hunt also had a Fight of the Year candidate in 2013 against Junior dos Santos. (Getty)
Mark Hunt also had a Fight of the Year candidate in 2013 against Junior dos Santos. (Getty)

"I told him, 'Look man, we'll pay you what we owe you for the rest of the contract and go ahead and do your thing.' But he got so mad when I said that. '[Expletive] you! [Expletive] you! I'm not doing that. I'm fighting.' And look at him. It turns out that in the long run, he was right and we were wrong. He's earned 10 times what he'd have made if we'd just paid him off and here he is fighting for the title."

When White called him this time to offer him the interim title shot against Werdum, Hunt never had a doubt.

He'd knocked out Roy Nelson in the second round of a card in Japan on Sept. 20, and immediately returned home to Australia to enjoy life until his next bout.

Hunt is just 1-1-1 in his last three fights, but the draw was arguably the greatest heavyweight MMA fight ever and one of the best UFC fights of all-time, a match against Antonio "Big Foot" Silva in Brisbane, Australia, on Dec. 6, 2013.

He laughed when his first conversation with White was mentioned, and he said there was no way he was going to take the money and run.

"I've never been a quitter, ever, and I've always had the knack of being able to turn a negative situation in my life into a positive one," Hunt said. "I'm a big believer in Christ and his hand is over my life, and is a big influence on me.

"And I just love what I do. I love it. This is a great opportunity and nothing was going to get me to say no. Yeah, I'm not in fighting shape and I have some weight to drop, but you have to remember, fighting is the easy part. It's what I love to do. So of course I was going to say yes."

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