It was almost a pipe dream when fans were calling for a potential title shot for Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt after he had knocked out Roy Nelson in Japan. One injury to Cain Velasquez later though and the reality is right on our doorstep. UFC fans around the world rejoice. There are a plethora of reasons that these fans, old and new, are firmly behind Hunt at UFC 180 in Mexico City this weekend.
For some it’s nostalgia; Hunt was a Pride FC regular, defeating Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop in their prime, and facing the best heavyweights in the world consistently. For others it’s a tale of becoming a champion against the odds. Not just any champion, but UFC champion. Hunt entered the Octagon at 5-6, losing his debut to the unheralded Sean McCorkle, and has since gone on to pave his way towards the interim championship with some big performances. For many though, it’s just the fact that Hunt seems like that regular dude anybody could know, the everyman, and he just so happens to a violent, crushing 265lb behemoth in the cage.
The chiselled physique of Georges St-Pierre earned him legions of admirers, but people always had a soft spot for the soft-around-the-middle – yet freakishly talented – BJ Penn. He was you, he was me, he was all of us. He was fallible, slightly flabby (and at some points more than slightly), and he was human. That’s part of the attraction of Mark Hunt. He isn’t a glamorised TV persona or an unattainable adonis – he’s a laid-back family man with a penchant for separating some of the best fighters in the world from their senses.
If you’d have presented his current UFC resume to any discerning fight fan back in 2010 they’d have told you to take your delusions elsewhere (probably filed in the ‘Impossible Ideas’ section, along a successful Shine Fights PPV). However, four KO wins against high-level opposition, two Knockout of the Night awards, two Fight of the Night awards, and one new-fangled Performance of the Night award later and you’re genuinely looking at one of the best heavyweights on the planet. This is no longer being endeared to a man who did the ‘atomic butt drop’ because, you know, that’s always awesome. He is beating the best fighters in the world, and usually emphatically.
When he comes up against Fabricio Werdum this weekend, betting lines will have him as a big underdog, but there seems to be an air that this Rocky story hasn’t reached its peak just yet. There’s a feeling that he just might do it. He hasn’t had the time to prepare, but he could just find a way. The rocks he has for fists are a great equaliser, and he sees them as plenty enough to negate the grappling advantages of his opponent. Legitimate one shot KO power will always keep him in the game, long enough for him to nonchalantly walk off with his opponent face down on the canvas at least.
He may not win, and the fact that he is even in contention for the gold is a monumental achievement regardless, but if he did it’d be hard to find a narrative in MMA to rival this one. Let’s do it, Super Samoan. Make history.