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UFC 119: Will cutting weight and 'giving a damn' bring out the world beater in Mark Hunt?


Or is it too little, too late?

New Zealand's granite-chinned goliath will return to mixed martial arts following a 16-month hiatus to debut under the Zuffa banner (who would have believed that in 2008) when he faces Sean McCorkle at UFC 119 from the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Sept. 25.

And what a long, strange trip it's been.

After winning the K-1 World Grand Prix by knocking out heavily-favored Jerome LeBanner in 2001, Hunt eventually transitioned to the world of mixed martial arts in 2004, competing for PRIDE FC and finishing with a record of 5-3.

His debut loss may not have been the start he was looking for, but he quickly erased any first impressions by winning his next five fights, including upset victories over Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

His weakness on the ground was eventually exposed in 2006 by submission masters Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko -- but not before Hunt nearly submitted the wily Russian with a kimura of his own.

Then came the fall of PRIDE -- and what seemed like the fall of Hunt as a relevant fighter.

The "Super Samoan" was last seen at Dream 9 in May 2009, getting submitted (armbar) by a much smaller Gegard Mousasi in the first round of the "Super Hulk" tournament for his fifth consecutive loss.

Prior to that, the former K-1 kickboxing standout was finished by the heavy-handed (and again much smaller) Melvin Manhoef in the first round of the year-end "Dynamite!!" show in 2008.

What looked like the end, for Hunt, can now become a new beginning.

And as he tells, a new approach to training (thanks largely in part to the UFC's 265-pound weight limit), along with the drive to become a champion may resurrect his one-promising career.

"If I'd trained as hard as some of the guys out here, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now. I'd be at a different level of fighting. I just used up my time. I squandered it. I never had to make weight before. I never gave a damn what I ate. I've already stopped eating KFC, chocolate, that stuff. I've got a personal trainer, never had one of them before. I'm not a big person, I'm only 5-foot-10 or something. It's been two or three years of bad training for me. Not my training partners, but how hard I trained ... I wish I could change the way I did things now, but I'm here for a reason. For me now, I know this is my last chance. I won a K-1 world title, then I fought MMA. I wanted to win, but I didn't have that drive to be a champion. I feel like now, I really want to be an MMA champion."

A motivated and in-shape Mark Hunt can pose serious problems for anyone in the division. However, unless he exhibits a marked improvement in his ground game, he could become the Octagon's version of the aforementioned Manhoef.

Hunt may only have one shot to prove otherwise -- at the expense of Sean McCorkle.

Anyone think he can do it?

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