UFC Fight Night 33 Preview
It’s 2013, and Mark Hunt is headlining a UFC show against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. OK, so it’s a Fight Night. And, OK, it’s in Hunt’s home country of Australia. And – fucking – OK! Hunt’s actually from New Zealand, but c’mon, New Zealand is to Australia what Puerto Rico is to America or what the 22-year-old blonde at the bar is to a married Randy Couture.
Still, this is all sorts of insane! Three years ago, Hunt’s old Pride contract required the UFC to fulfill three bouts. They scheduled Hunt – on a five-fight losing streak that had dropped him record to 5-6 in MMA; a losing streak that included a knockout loss (the only one of his career to that point) to natural middleweight Melvin Manhoef – against Sean McCorkle. McCorkle had compiled a 9-0 record, having built his reputation beating nobodies (sorry, Johnathan Ivey) in Indiana. McCorkle submitted Hunt in just over a minute. Two fights later, McCorkle was out of the UFC.
But the UFC wasn’t done with Hunt’s contract. So they scheduled him against Chris Tuchsherer. Hunt knocked him out in the second round. Then came Ben Rothwell. Hunt took a decision. The UFC had fulfilled their obligations, and now Hunt found himself in the UFC on his own merit. They gave him Cheick Kongo; Hunt knocked out two minutes in. In stepped Stefan Struve. And out stepped Stefan Struve with a broken jaw.
Hunt had turned his 5-6 MMA record into a 9-7 MMA record, and people started talking – in earnest – about a title shot. He fought Junior dos Santos at UFC 160, a win almost certainly assuring him a shot at UFC gold. He lost, because, it’s time to get real, Mark Hunt is Mark Hunt and Junior dos Santos is Junior dos Santos. Hunt’s run was akin to the backup point guard draining three after three or the utility infielder stretching a hitting streak into the double digits or a wrong-handed quarterback of the Jesus persuasion leading a hapless team into the NFL playoffs. You know it’ll end – a harsh, 20-foot fall onto pavement sort of end – but it’s fun while it lasted.
-Maybe as insane as Hunt’s run are Hunt’s chances against Bigfoot, according to the books. Bigfoot’s a modest -145 favorite, down from a high of -180. Two things are in Hunt’s favor: 1) Bigfoot is not fleet of foot (har har) and absorbs 2.5 strikes per minute. (For reference, champion Cain Velasquez absorbs 1.7 and former heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko a scant 1.) Hunt lands 3.43 strikes per minute and hits hard (6 of 9 wins by [T]KO). 2) Hunt is local (OK NEW ZEALAND WHATEVER WHATEVER) while Bigfoot is traveling halfway across the world.
-Silva’s also a weird case study. He lost to Eric Pele way back in 2006. Since then, he has lost four times: once to Fabricio Werdum, once to Daniel Cormier, and twice to Cain Velasquez. That’s the heavyweight champion and the guys ranked as the number two and number three challengers to his title. That’s good. But Mike Kyle, on short notice, put him in a bad spot before succumbing to fists. That’s bad. He defeated Fedor Emelianenko. That’s great. But he was on his way to losing an uninspired decision to Alistair Overeem before bullhorning him in the third round. That’s good (after ten minutes of bad).
Which is a way of saying that either of two diametrically opposed results are possibilities here. Bigfoot could come out, take Hunt down, and pound on him for five or fifteen minutes, or he could lumber around, take a right hook to the head, and fall over in deliberate, hilarious fashion. Neither would be surprising.
-Hunt and Bigfoot not only headline a UFC show in 2013, but they’re headlining a show over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Sherdog ranked Shogun as the number one light heavyweight in the world when he entered the UFC in 2007 despite the fact Quinton Jackson and Dan Henderson held the UFC and Pride 205-pound titles, respectively. He had lost only twice in 18 pro fights: the first in the fifth fight of his career and second fight of a one-night tournament against Renato “Babalu” Sobral and the second due to breaking an arm after an attempt to post himself during a Mark Coleman takedown.
He hasn’t won more than two fights in a row since. In fact, Rua needs a win on Friday just to bring his UFC record back up to .500. There’s a measure of strength of schedule involved here. His loss column includes Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones, Dan Henderson, Alexander Gustafsson, and Chael Sonnen. Of course, we must acknowledge the Machida and Henderson fights that ended as judging coin flips. But we also must acknowledge that in 2007 the idea of Shogun Rua losing to both Griffin and Sonnen over the next five years would have been laughed out of conversation as quickly as the claim that Elvis is a deity preparing his return to earth.
It’s also also worth acknowledging the damage his body has accumulated. A pre-existing knee injury probably cost him the fight with Griffin and was operated on shortly after. He suffered a second injury while training for his return fight. He finally returned after 15 months and nearly lost a rematch with Coleman. He eventually won the light heavyweight title from Machida before undergoing a third surgery on his knee. He’d lose the belt in a mauling from Jones and would later take two more extended beatings from Henderson and Gustafsson.
Shogun last fought in October, tapping out to a Chael Sonnen guillotine choke. He’s still nominally young at 32, but one wonders if he’s entered the Jens Pulver stage of his career. Pulver, a former UFC lightweight champ, was 30 when he was knocked out by Joe Lauzon, starting a run where he won once in nine fights before entering the longest, saddest retirement tour through cities like Woodstock, Illinois, and Kearney, Nebraska. The early part of that run included losses to B.J. Penn, Urijah Faber (twice), and Leonard Garcia (who had yet to have his horseshoe-in-the-ass run of favorable decisions). It wasn’t until quick submission losses to Josh Grispi and Javier Vazquez that the WEC dropped him and people started to openly wonder whether he should even continue fighting at all.
Te-Huna, like Grispi and Vazquez, is a credible fighter, but he’s a relative also-ran to the Shoguns of the world. He’s 32 years old with a 16-6 record and there’s an argument whether his best win is Ryan Jimmo, Joey Beltran, or Aaron Rosa. Simply put, a loss to Te-Huna of any non-non-contact injury variety is the first toss of dirt on the coffin of Shogun’s run as a top guy.