K-1 kickboxing veteran, Mark Hunt, looks to topple gigantic American Top Team (ATT) trained team mate and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title challenger, Antonio Silva, this Friday night (Dec. 6, 2013) on FOX Sports 1 from the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Queensland, Australia.
See our "Bigfoot" breakdown here.
Hunt has had an incredible mixed martial arts (MMA) career comeback. After a five fight losing streak, admittedly to excellent competition, an old contract with now-defunct organization Pride FC found its way into the UFC's hands. The promotion offered to buy Hunt out, but "The Super Samoan" refused, demanding a fight.
At first, the 39 year-old looked his age, losing to Sean McCorkle, a fairly mediocre fighter. in the first round via submission. His next fight, against Division 2 All-American wrestler Chris Tuchscherer, was expected to go the same.
Hunt, however, was out to prove his career wasn't over just yet.
Repeatedly stuffing "The Crowbar's" takedowns, Hunt finished him with a walk-off knockout in the second round. He continued his success with a dominant, if rather boring, decision victory over Ben Rothwell. Now on a two-fight win streak, Hunt was matched against top 10 gatekeeper, Cheick Kongo.
Hunt easily disposed of the Parisian in the first round and then followed that victory with another knockout, this time finishing off Stefan Struve. Having won his last four, Hunt earned a step up, accepting a bout with former champion Junior dos Santos.
After an exciting scrap, "Cigano" ended his winning streak with a spinning wheel kick.
Now, Hunt looks to get back on track against one of his largest opponents ever. Does he have what it takes to knockout the big Brazilian?
Let's take a closer look.
Hunt has evolved from an iron-jawed brawler to technical counter puncher, leaving him with a variety of stand-up skills. Regardless of which approach Hunt takes, he's a powerful puncher with the ability to knockout anyone in the division.
Hunt rarely utilizes it, but he possess a kickboxing game. For the most part, he sticks to leg kicks, occasionally going higher. Hunt's kicks land with serious force, thanks in part to his massive legs. In his last fight, Hunt originally planned to return to his leg kicking game, but that idea was derailed when he broke his toe early in the first round.
Currently, Hunt's favored punch is his left hook, a stark contrast from his earlier years of winging overhand rights. Hunt is at his best when he is stalking his opponent, catches their punch with his right hand, then responds with a hook. One interesting factor is that Hunt twists his fist further than most fighters, switching which part of his hand the punch lands with, similar to Fedor Emelianenko's lunging hooks.
Hunt will also utilize his hook when he is on the offensive. To set it up, Hunt often throws out jabs and feints. If he decides to lead with the hook, he'll jump into the punch, extending its range. Otherwise, he ties it into his combinations well, especially when paired with his big right hand.
Years of training his left hook haven't taken away from Hunt's vicious right hand. Like his hook, Hunt can either use the overhand to counter his opponent's jab, as a lead, or in the midst of combinations. When he knocked out Cheick Kongo, the punch that started the finish was an overhand, which Kongo blocked. However, Hunt still connected hard enough to wobble Kongo.
One of the biggest improvements to Hunt's overall MMA game is his ability to capitalize on his opponent's takedown attempts. In addition to timing a Tuchsherer takedown with an uppercut, which ended the bout, Hunt repeatedly blasted Rothwell's slow motion takedown attempts. He mostly began working punches immediately after he sprawled on "Big Ben," but also managed to clip Rothwell with a stepping elbow as he shot for a takedown.
Hunt may have focused on becoming a more technical striker, but his brawling instincts remain. Aggression has been a common theme, for better or worse, throughout Hunt's career, as he's willing to take a punch in order to give one.
Hunt's defense has improved tremendously, as it was originally only his chin that kept him conscious. However, his occasional charge has gotten him finished before. Additionally, Hunt's hand position, as well as his preferred catch and comeback style of boxing, seems to leave him open to kicks. Even if the kicks don't finish him, such as Mirko Filipovic's multiple head kicks on "The Super Samoan," they still slow him down and score his opponent some serious points.
For a 39 year-old kickboxer with six submission losses, Hunt has some pretty solid wrestling. Since the very beginning of his career, Hunt has been matched with excellent ground fighters, forcing him to sink or swim.
Hunt rarely searches for takedowns, only looking to gain top position when his opponent repeatedly forces grappling exchanges, such as the Ben Rothwell fight. In his fight with Stefan Struve, Hunt hit a beautiful foot sweep from the clinch, showing his continued evolution.
Hunt's takedown defense is largely based on his effective sprawl. It's very difficult to take Hunt down with a straight double leg unless it is timed excellently, as Hunt has a very low center of gravity. However, his opponents have had more success with moves that force Hunt to balance or quickly shift his weight.
Many heavyweights try to muscle around their opponents from the clinch, something that is quite difficult to do to Hunt. Hunt is a strong fighter with a powerful base and low center of gravity, all factors that make clinch throws difficult for his opponent. For example, Kongo's favorite method of fighting is tenderizing his opponent in the clinch with knees. Kongo managed to secure a clinch on Hunt but was quickly reversed, followed by Hunt exiting the clinch and returning to the center of the Octagon.
Finally, Hunt does an excellent job making his opponent's pay for their takedown attempts, as mentioned above. Regardless of whether it's an elbow or uppercut, swallowing a punch from the brick-fisted kickboxer is extremely discouraging, as well as dangerous.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Hunt's jiu-jitsu game is nothing short of extraordinary. Not extraordinary good by any means, but Hunt is so fearless on the mat, despite his history of being submitted, that he finds himself in advantageous positions against far better grapplers.
Hunt has had two major submission moments in his career. The first was against Emelianenko, when the Russian was not suspecting any submission attempts from the stocky striker. After miraculously escaping from an armbar attempt, Hunt was on top in side control. He suddenly locked up an americana, cranking on the arm of "The Last Emperor!" Emelianenko escaped, only to nearly get caught in the same move less than a minute later. While Emelianenko escaped and eventual submitted Hunt with a shoulder lock of his own, it was a crazy moment in Hunt's career.
In his bout with Rothwell, something similar happened near the end of the second round. Rothwell, half-dead from fatigue, merely laid on his back with Hunt in side control. Hunt stepped over into technical mount, grabbed an arm, and sat back. He nearly broke Rothwell's grip, but the clock ran out before Hunt could finish.
More recently, Hunt showed off the fearlessness that has cost and won him fights by repeatedly diving into Stefan Struve's dangerous guard. While Hunt survived numerous submission attempts and bad positions, he also out-grappled the Dutchman, passing his guard multiple times.
The same bold attitude toward fighting that has gained Hunt so many fans has also lost him multiple fights. The best example of this is his bout against McCorkle. Hunt easily sprawled on McCorkle's first takedown attempt yet followed him to the mat. This was completely unnecessary, as Hunt is a far better striker, and allowed McCorkle to isolate his arm and finish with a straight armbar from his back.
Best chance for success
Hunt is used to fighting bigger, slower opponents intent on taking him down. "Bigfoot" may be larger than most men he's fought, but his chin cracks just like most heavyweights when his opponent connects. To topple this giant, Hunt should play the counter striker, while being mindful of his footwork, as getting too close to the cage could give Silva the opportunity he needs to take Hunt down.
If Hunt can get Silva to exchange with him, he absolutely should. The Brazilian may hit hard, but Hunt's chin is strong enough to withstand his punches, something Silva cannot say. Hunt has to remain composed and not get overaggressive, which would open up takedowns, but allowing Silva to land in order to get in shots of his own is not a bad strategy for Hunt.
Hunt needs to be very cautious with takedowns. Silva is not Stefan Struve or Dos Santos; if he gets on top with any time left in the round, he'll brutalize and likely finish Hunt. Hunt's first priority should be to stop the takedown, rather than counter it with punches. Instead of timing his shot with an uppercut, Hunt should try to land punches as Silva returns to his feet after a failed takedown.
Can Hunt continue to overcome the odds, or will Silva cement his place as a top fighter in the UFC's heavyweight division?