Former K-1 Grand Prix champion, Mark Hunt, will scrap with Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) gold medalist, Fabricio Werdum, this Saturday (Nov. 15, 2014) at the UFC 180 pay-per-view (PPV) event inside Arena Mexico in Mexico City.
Perhaps the greatest comeback story in mixed martial arts (MMA) already, Hunt has a chance to further improve his legacy. After Cain Velasquez fell out of his title defense due to injury, Hunt agreed to step up on just a few weeks' notice to fight for an interim title.
Though Hunt has not compiled an extended win streak, his recent fights have been extraordinary. He may have lost to Junior dos Santos, but that fight is now one of the best UFC heavyweight fights in history, only topped by Hunt's brawl with "Bigfoot" Silva. Plus, being the first man to stop Roy Nelson inside the Octagon is nothing to scoff at.
Can Hunt complete his comeback with a win over Werdum?
Let's find out.
Throughout his years in combat sports, Hunt has spent time as both a brawler and counter puncher. As an experienced veteran, Hunt now possesses both skill sets and relies on uses them intelligently.
Currently, Hunt heavily relies on his counter left hook. It's undoubtedly his money punch, as he attacks with the strike almost every time his opponent overextends himself. When Hunt attacks with his left hook, he really turns his fist over, which causes him to often land with the bottom knuckles.
To force his foe to engage, Hunt stalks aggressively and stands within range to be hit. However, Hunt is ready to slip or parry the strike and crack his foe with the left hook.
Hunt will also lead with his left hook. If his opponent's back is to the fence or Hunt feels like rapidly closing the distance, he'll leap into the strike. To set it up, Hunt will actively jab and feint well.
Though it's no longer his primary weapon, Hunt's right hand is still quite dangerous. He'll still lunge in with an occasional right overhand -- which used to be his M.O. -- but likes to counter with it now as well, often over top of his opponent's jab.
With the left hook and right cross as his main tools, Hunt builds off the threat of the strike well. Since the hook goes around his opponent's guard and the cross goes straight through it, it can be very difficult to defend both strikes in combination. If Hunt's opponent moves to defend one blow, he's often open to the other. Once Hunt establishes one of those strikes as a threat, he'll feint with it in order to make the other punch available.
Outside of his hands, Hunt has some powerful low kicks. "Super Samoan" has very thick, muscled legs that translate to an incredible amount of power behind these blows. A broken toe derailed Hunt's plans to chop down dos Santos, but Hunt did return to his low kicks a few times against Roy Nelson. However, Hunt's last two bouts have also shown that he does not handle receiving leg kicks.
As Hunt's wrestling has improved, his ability to counter takedowns with strikes has also shot up. When Hunt's opponent begins reaching for his legs, Hunt will shovel an uppercut up into their jaw as he steps back. Not only did Hunt land this technique on Ben Rothwell multiple times, he also knocked Chris Tuchsherer out with the technique.
Finally, Mark Hunt's strike defense has greatly improved late in his career, largely because his game plan no longer consists of a take-one-to-give-one mentality. Plus, Hunt's excellent countering ability means that his opponent will be less likely to commit to punches.
After spending multiple years being put on his back whenever his opponent had the inclination, Hunt has developed a fairly strong wrestling game. He's aided by his low center of gravity and immense physical strength, both of which make him difficult to move around.
Hunt doesn't usually initiate grappling exchanges, but he will look for takedowns if his opponent forces the issue. For example, Hunt hit a beautiful foot trip after Struve kept reaching for the clinch. Similarly, Hunt continuously repelled Ben Rothwell's takedown attempts until the "Big" man simply surrendered top position.
After getting out-struck for the majority of two rounds by "Bigfoot" Silva, Hunt instinctively turned to his wrestling skills. First, he caught one of Silva's low kicks and blasted him off his feet with a tackle. Next, Hunt shot for a double against the fence. When "Bigfoot" stepped out of the double, Hunt took a second shot from an angle, which knocked Silva to his back.
In both shots, Hunt looked very agile and physically powerful.
Hunt is a tough man to hit with a simple double or single leg. Due to his low center of gravity and style of striking that keeps him balanced, it's very tough to catch Hunt at a moment that he isn't prepared to sprawl or fire off an uppercut. However, Hunt does struggle a bit more with opponents who can chain together takedowns or cut an angle.
Inside the clinch, Hunt is a very difficult man to wrestle with. He's just so low and strong that it's very difficult to move 'Super Samoan,' especially now that he knows where he does not want to go. For example, Cheick Kongo -- whose primary skill consisted of holding his opponent against the fence and landing knees to the groin and/or thighs -- was not able to keep Hunt against the fence for more than a few seconds.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Despite Hunt's SIX submission defeats, he's actually not a terrible grappler. The thing is, Hunt is absolutely fearless in all phases of combat, which extends to grappling. Now that he's got some technique behind his aggression, it works out a bit better for him, though it can still put him in dangerous positions.
Hunt's bizarre pursuit of the submission has lead to a pair of absurd and hilarious moments. Early in his career, Hunt somehow rolled out of Fedor Emelianenko's infamous armbar. Finding himself on top of a brilliant grappler less than two years into his MMA career, Hunt decided that it would be best to keep trading submissions with the Russian. While Emelianenko relaxed, Hunt sprang into a deep americana attempt.
Though "The Last Emperor" escaped and eventually tapped out Hunt, it was almost the most ludicrous upset of all time.
In his UFC career, Hunt found himself on top of a gassed out Ben Rothwell. Since Rothwell was essentially immobile from the fatigue of high elevation, Hunt moved into the mount. When Rothwell went to defend himself from Hunt's ground strikes, Hunt moved into the technical mount, tied up Rothwell's arm, and then sat back for the arm bar. He nearly had it, but time ran out before he could break "Big Ben's" grip.
In a more successful endeavor, Hunt repeatedly passed Stefan Struve's dangerous guard. Again, Hunt demonstrated his lack of concern for submissions by choosing to continue engaging the lanky Dutchman on the mat, but it ended up working quite well for him. Over and over, Hunt was able to throw Struve's legs to the side and do damage.
Obviously, this boldness has its drawbacks. The same aggression that led Hunt to run face first into Melvin Manhoef's overhand also caused him to hop into Sean McCorkle's guard and fall to a straight armbar. Against a brutal submission ace like Werdum, it's vital that Hunt controls those tendencies.
He simply can't make any mistakes against the Brazilian.
Best chance for success
It's really, really clear that Hunt's path to victory is on the feet.
That's not to say it will be easy for Hunt. Werdum's improved kicking game and length could give Hunt some serious problems, but that does not mean takedowns should ever be considered as an option for "The Super Samoan." That's simply making it too easy for Werdum.
Instead, Hunt needs to pressure Werdum on his feet and get him along the fence. Werdum does not react especially well when his back is to the cage, as he suddenly becomes much more hittable. That's Hunt's opportunity to tear up Werdum's body and then work his way higher.
Hunt also has to be wary of Werdum's habit of playing possum. Werdum is more than willing to act hurt or even fall to the ground in the hopes that Hunt will follow or get himself off-balance. This is one fight in which Hunt's walk off habit will actually benefit him.
Will Mark Hunt pull off the upset, or can Werdum earn the interim title en route to his match with Cain Velasquez?