Mark Hunt is fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title this weekend. Do not refresh the page, or get your eyes checked, because this is legitimately happening in just a few short days.
Hunt, the former PRIDE heavyweight who came into UFC on a five-fight losing streak back in 2009, has somehow found himself fighting for UFC gold on short notice against the uber-dangerous No. 1 contender Fabricio Werdum this weekend at the UFC 180 pay-per-view (PPV).
In UFC's first trip to Mexico, ZUFFA planned for a monstrous homecoming for undisputed heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, but a torn meniscus just weeks before the PPV had UFC scrambling for a viable replacement. In steps Hunt, the man UFC tried to buy out of his contract in 2009 instead of allowing him to fight in the Octagon, to take on Werdum for the interim title on just about three weeks' notice.
UFC 180 goes down this Saturday (Nov. 15, 2014) at Arena Ciudad de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico. Other than the stellar main event, fight fans could look forward to watching a healthy stable of Mexican athletes take center stage on the PPV card.
With a new main event, and a whole new storyline to consider, MMAmania pondered "Five Burning Questions" heading into the Mexico PPV event this weekend.
5. Can Mark Hunt compete at elevation?
Mark Hunt's UFC career has been absolutely stellar thus far. For a fighter who was knocked out by a career middleweight back in 2008, Hunt has successfully turned his career into one of the better MMA stories of all time.
At one point, Hunt was 0-1 in UFC and 5-7 overall in his MMA career. Then came the jaw-dropping knockouts over Chris Tuchscherer, Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve, and most recently Roy Nelson.
Sandwiched in between Hunt's unheralded run to the title was an absolutely dreadful unanimous decision victory over No. 10 ranked Ben Rothwell at UFC 135. Both Hunt and Rothwell gassed badly at elevation in Denver, and a fight that was highly anticipated as a heavyweight slugfest turned out to be one of the worst battles in recent memory.
Considering the elevation in Mexico City is much higher than in Denver, fans have to wonder if Hunt has acclimated to the conditions in Mexico prior to his fight this weekend. If Hunt's gas tank fails on him during the fight, Werdum should have no problem submitting the "Super Samoan" early on.
When you couple the elevation issue with the fact that Hunt has been forced to cut a tremendous amount of weight in a short period of time, it could be a long night for the fan favorite.
4. Will Jessica Eye or Leslie Smith prove to be contenders, or simply gatekeepers, in the women's bantamweight division?
Regardless of whether or not Jessica Eye or Leslie Smith contend for a title in UFC, you have to believe these women will be vying for the "Fight of the Night" bonus come Saturday.
With that being said, a quick overview of the women's bantamweight rankings reveal that both No. 6 Eye and No. 13 Smith could viably make a run for the belt in 2015. With No. 2-4 already getting their crack at Ronda Rousey, Eye and Smith are one of the few contenders left in the pack who could potentially get a chance at the "Rowdy" one.
Eye is coming off a very tough split decision loss to Alexis Davis back in February, and you can guarantee that she is looking to take this fight out of the judges' hands Saturday evening. If Eye truly wants to get a crack at Ronda next year she must avoid another questionable decision, and finish Smith within 15 minutes.
On the other hand, Smith is coming off a sensational UFC debut that saw her finish Jessamyn Duke in under three minutes via TKO. While beating Duke is not necessarily something to write home about, the finish unquestionably boosted Smith's chances at fighting for a belt next year.
While neither is likely to get a chance at Rousey in the immediate future, the first step to the title begins with a stellar performance at UFC 180 this weekend.
3. Will Mexico prove to be a common destination for UFC, or will the event fall flat without Cain Velasquez?
As of this past weekend, UFC held 297 events in 106 cities across 14 countries around the world. This weekend, UFC will make its first trip to Mexico, but without its marquee star in UFC champion Cain Velasquez.
With UFC keen on expanding globally, Mexico has been on their radar for years. UFC President Dana White has noted many times that the company would wait until the time was right to bring an event to Mexico, and it seemed that everything had fallen in place for the stellar UFC 180 line up.
That of course was before Velasquez sprained his MCL.
One of the major markets for UFC outside the United States is Brazil. After 1998, UFC did not return to Brazil until 2011, where MMA legend and Brazilian hero Anderson Silva defended his middleweight title against Yushin Okami in front of a sold-out, raucous crowd in the HSBC Arena in Rio.
After that event, UFC immediately recognized the importance of returning to Brazil with multiple fight cards each and every year. In 2014 alone, UFC has gone to Brazil six times, and has one more event planned with UFC Fight Night 58 next month.
UFC did a sensational job of choosing fan favorite Mark Hunt to replace Velasquez for the interim title fight, but there is no question that losing the champion was a huge loss for the organization heading into Mexico.
Now we will have to wait and see whether or not the Mexican faithful turn out for the rest of their fighters, or if the event falls flat without the heavyweight champion.
Could Mexico soon become the next international hot-bed for MMA and UFC?
2. Can Dennis Bermudez pick up his eighth straight UFC victory and will it be enough for a UFC title shot?
Hey Dennis Bermudez, you could learn a thing or two from Conor McGregor.
Bermudez, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 runner-up, has won seven straight UFC fights, and yet he is seemingly not in the running for a featherweight title shot. With the emergence of the Irish phenom in McGregor, and top contenders Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar battling it out later this month, Bermudez is on the outside looking in.
As a fighter can Bermudez beat Ricardo Lamas this weekend? Absolutely. Will that eighth straight victory garner him a title shot against Jose Aldo? Probably not.
Consider this: Would you give Bermudez a shot over McGregor? Regardless of their respective records, there is no question that McGregor is already a huge draw and piques the interest of even casual MMA fans. In just his third UFC bout, McGregor headlined a UFC event in Dublin, and in his fifth UFC bout McGregor is set to headline the UFC Boston event in January.
Bermudez? Most casuals have absolutely no idea who he is.
While it may be UFC's fault for not highlighting how great Bermudez has been on this run, it is also Bermudez's fault for not calling out top contenders, creating headlines, and making himself a household name as McGregor has done since his UFC debut last year.
If Bermudez beats Lamas on Saturday night, he better consider calling out Aldo in his post-fight interview, or risk losing his window of opportunity within the next few months.
1. Will Fabricio Werdum fold under the pressure, or will he take out Mark Hunt on Saturday?
Fabricio Werdum has looked sensational since returning to UFC in 2012. After losing his last bout in Strikeforce to Alistair Overeem, no one could have expected Werdum to earn a UFC title shot before "Demolition Man."
Yet, we sit here only a few days out from Werdum's interim title shot, and the Brazilian is a big favorite going into Mexico City. The question is, will Werdum fold under the pressure, or will he take the belt back to Brazil on Sunday morning?
This fight is an absolutely perfect match up for the jiu-jitsu wizard, as six of Hunt's eight career losses have come by way of submission. While Hunt's defense has certainly improved, there is no question Werdum will have the decided advantage on the mat.
With the elevation in his favor as well, Werdum clearly has the easier route to victory this Saturday night. While Hunt won't lay down for anyone, this fight looks as if it is Werdum's to lose.
Will Werdum feverishly look for a takedown and get clipped by the "Super Samoan," or will he bide his time en route to a submission finish as expected? We will find out in just a few short days.
That's a wrap!
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