Mark Hunt: Blessed With Another Chance at History

“I’ve always thought I was the best fighter in the world… I feel blessed by God. This is what I’m supposed to be doing in life. I never wanted to be a fighter. This is what God said I’m going to do, and I’m happy with that. The end is the same, if I win, lose or draw.” — Mark Hunt

Mark Hunt, who returns to UFC action tonight at UFC 180 in Mexico City, had a memorable interview with journalist Dave Meltzer in the days before UFC Fight Night 55 back in September.

“The Super Samoan” was preparing to battle Roy Nelson at his old stomping grounds of Saitama, Japan — the site of some of his classic battles, like his wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop, during Japanese MMA’s heyday of the early 2000 to mid 2000’s. Maybe the setting had him in an introspective mood.

Hunt would go on to score another of his signature “walk-off knockout” victories that night in Saitama, dropping Nelson to the canvas with a left hook in the second round. The victory capped off an impressive 5-1 run (with one draw) for the New Zealand-born, Australian-based Hunt since 2011.

That’s the thing with Mark Hunt. Sure, he says he’s the best fighter in the world. That’s a matter of opinion. But everyone agrees, more than anyone else in this sport, he’s always a punch away from victory — and tonight, as he prepares to meet Fabricio Werdum for the UFC Interim Heavyweight title, he’s one punch from history.

Ten years prior, Hunt was making history as a kickboxer in Japan, back when that sport was enjoying its glory years (in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s).

Not many gave Hunt much of a chance when he entered the Tokyo Dome to compete in the K-1 World Grand Prix Finals tournament back in 2001. K-1 was a mainstream sporting event at the time, and the Tokyo Dome enjoyed a raucous 65,000 capacity crowd.

Hunt was seeded to face the highly touted Jerome LeBanner in the first round of the tournament, and many expected an early exit. But he knocked LeBanner senseless with a right hand, then won another two bouts, earning that coveted title of K-1 Grand Prix champion.

Ten years later, K-1 had fallen, and Hunt was struggling to transition to MMA — losing six straight bouts. When Hunt lost to journeyman Sean McCorkle in one round at UFC 119, many called for his retirement.

A satirical Twitter account offers some perspective:

In a few hours, despite a MMA record barely over .500, Mark Hunt could stand on top of the MMA world.

I’m not sure Mark Hunt is the best fighter in the world. But he’s blessed with an opportunity tonight, and that may lead to both an unmatched achievement — achieving the greatest prize in both MMA and kickboxing history — while ending, possibly, the greatest comeback story in fight sport’s history.

All it takes, once again, is one punch.