UFC on FUEL TV 8, which takes place later this evening (Sat., March 2, 2013) from Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, is a stacked mixed martial arts (MMA) card far beyond usual expectations for a FUEL TV event, let alone an international card on the FOX-owned network.
With a very solid main event between Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann and other talented fighters littered about the card, the spotlight isn't really cast on anyone in particular, so it's hard to think of a "Fighter to Watch" who deserves it more than anyone else.
Initially, I was going to again make Korean prospect Hyun Gyu Lim the focus of this feature as I did before his scheduled bout at UFC on Fuel TV 6 (which didn't actually end up happening after a weigh in disaster), but this time around I've decided to take a different path.
Mark Hunt, a reluctant MMA fighter for more than a decade, has given fight fans something to talk about with just about each recent performance he has had inside the Octagon. Whether it's an exciting brawl, an emphatic win or an embarrassing defeat (Sean McCorkle), Hunt has consistently made himself someone whose fights are action-packed win or lose.
His professional kickboxing accomplishments are extremely impressive, as opposed to some other fighters billed as "K-1-level." At the start of his combat sports career, Hunt was meant as a stepping stone for fighters K-1 wanted to promote, but as he built up an impressive record, the organization simply could no longer use him for this role.
Especially after the unlikely champion won the K-1 Grand Prix in Oceana twice in a row before being entered into the World Grand Prix in 2001.
By a series of events that relied on a combination of Hunt's skill and luck, he found himself in the finals after defeating Jerome Le Banner in a rematch of a fight he originally lost. In the finals, Hunt defeated Francisco Filho to take the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship in 2001, marking his crowning achievement in kickboxing.
Hunt was unable to defend his world title one year later, losing to K-1 career nemesis, Le Banner, in their fourth fight via decision.
Based on his very impressive kickboxing credentials, it is important to not classify Hunt as a brawler as some fight fans like to do when discussing his style. He may not be a perfectly polished fighter, but he is still an elite technician when it comes to kickboxing -- something I feel has been overlooked throughout his MMA career.
What drives this point home in his next fight, which takes place later this evening against Stefan Struve, is what "Sky Scraper" had to say about their vertically-lopsided Heavyweight showdown:
"I know what Mark Hunt is going to do. He's not going to bring me down; he's going to come in, close the distance, and make it a brawl; try to land bombs. But when I keep my distance, I'm fine, and when he tries to close the distance, it's going to be easier for me to take him down, because he needs to come in to hit me. I don't need to chase him; I can already hit him from a mile away. He's probably one of the hardest punchers in the UFC, but if you look at me, if I fight my fight the way I should, use the game plan we've laid out - use my reach, keep my distance - then those punches are no problem because he's not touching me. If you look at our records, you don't expect a decision. I don't expect a decision. I trained really hard for this fight; I worked on a bunch of new stuff, and I can't wait to show it. I can't wait to show the crowd in Japan and the entire MMA world that I truly am one of the best heavyweights in the world. If I hit someone with my jab right now, they're really going to feel it."
If Struve really thinks this is how Hunt will fight him, he has another thing coming.
"Super Samoan" is not the kind of fighter to just wade in with sloppy haymakers as he attacks lengthy opponents. He has had experience with these men throughout his kickboxing career, and if he keeps his wits about him, a simple jab to keep distance will not get in the way of his superior striking ability. Make no mistake, his head movement and timing are superb, and for a fighter like Struve -- who only recently became known for even utilizing a jab -- the significantly smaller Hunt will easily give him fits.
As for Hunt's career in MMA, his achievements are not quite as lustrous. Though he had standout wins in Pride FC over Mirko Filipovic and Wanderlei Silva, among others, it became apparent that his fight game (at the time) was not well suited to MMA.
And after the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) buyout of Pride FC, few people believed that Hunt would ever see the Top Ten of the UFC's heavyweight division. Zuffa even tried to buy him out of his contract, but he denied it in favor of fighting in the Octagon. After a pretty embarrassing loss to McCorkle in his first UFC fight, things didn't look too bright, but he has since turned that around with three straight wins, most recently a knockout of longtime UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo.
While you may never have known it just by looking at his post-fight interviews, Hunt definitely appreciates the support of his fans, which has given him a boost in his career. Indeed, after the very popular "Rally For Mark Hunt" social campaign on Twitter, Hunt has always appeared in great spirits.
And he's looking to take MMA even more seriously now.
Even with bumps along the way, Hunt has made his name known in the heavyweight division. And this "Fighter's Fighter" may just be on his way to serious respect in his UFC division. He has worked hard to fix the holes in his game, and with his very strong background in kickboxing, he's a tall order for much of the promotion's heavyweight division.
With a very possible win over Struve at UFC on Fuel TV 8, Hunt would have made a very unlikely four-fight win streak in the UFC a reality. He's extremely tough, technically sound and fun to watch; therefore, he is definitely someone who you should keep on your radar.
And on a UFC on FUEL TV 8 fight card filled with tons of talent and big stories, Hunt is perhaps the "Fighter to Watch" this weekend in Japan.