Originally written on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 5/24/13
The prevailing opinion has never favored Mark Hunt.  Always fighting against the odds, Hunt has gritted his way through a tumultuous yet highly respectable career. He's never been the most technical fighter, certainly never the most athletic but always the toughest man in the room and the power in his hands could light a city grid. Mark Hunt is a journeyman. His path in combat sports has been a vicious gaunlet but it's this constant adversity that allowed him to develop into a top contender for the UFC heavyweight championship. The chubby Samoan, with his sandals, board shorts and loose fitting sleeveless shirts; a cool demeanor but the primal glare of a fighter that never leaves his eyes.  His ups and and even his downs have carved for him an intimidating resume to behold, a career which is surging towards yet another peak.    Hunt is no stranger to the taste of high level glory in combat sports. Back in 2001, when MMA had not yet robbed the kickboxing world of all its potential talent, he became the World Grand Prix Champion in front of almost 70,000 people, bringing home a nice fat check for $400,000.  This victory was essentially the culmination of having just previously won the K-1 World Grand Prix in Fukuoka in 2001 and the K-1 Oceania Grand Prix 2 years in a row since 2000. But as we've seen so many times before with those who never turn down a new challenge, the battle to stay at the top of the food chain only grows harder after the initial goal is reached.     Since he was so renowned in Japan for his gilded kickboxing status, Hunt was invited to compete in the PRIDE FC ring not as a kickboxer, but as a mixed martial artist.  Upon undertaking this new challenge, Hunt was at a severe deficit due to the added dimensions of submissions and wrestling that his former sport of kickboxing did not include. Hunt had no ground game at all. Yet he somehow managed to send shockwaves through the MMA world when he ended the 18-fight win streak of Wanderlei Silva. This fight saw Wanderlei get knocked down repeatedly and fall victim to a jumping butt slam by Hunt onto his supine opponent. All rumors that the win was a fluke were extinguished when Hunt then overcame Mirko Cro Cop as well, another PRIDE superstar who only fell to the very best. With these two wins, it was impossible not to be convinced the Mark Hunt had the talent and technique to become one of the most dangerous knockout artists in the history of the sport.     Then Hunt's weakness was exposed. He lost 6 straight fights, 5 of which were by submission. 4 of those submissions, however, were at the hands of former world champions: Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi. Once the UFC purchased PRIDE and inherited Mark Hunt's contract, they offered him a handsome check to basically just go away and not waste anyone's time. But this was not an option for Hunt, who chose to fight and fulfil his contract inside the cage. If only his next opponent, Sean McCorkle, was also a former world champion and not an unknown prospect. Hunt lost via armbar to someone with little if any formidable experience and the fans had no choice but to expect that this was the end of Mark Hunt. Mark was given one last chance at UFC 127 against Chris Tuchsherer, another unknown fighter on the rise. Mid-way into the second round, Tuchsherer was dropped after one of Hunt's signature bombs, falling flat on his face like a sack of potatoes. After delivering the blow, Hunt simply turned his back and walked away as his defeated opponent slid around helpessly on the canvas behind him. Hunt's momentum was established with a second consecutive win over Ben Rothwell, who truly tested the cardio and accuracy of Hunt with his endurance and reach advantage. Hunt then fought Cheick Kongo in Japan's Saitama Super Arena. A straight-left counter dropped Kongo in round 1 and Hunt secured the victory with a few ruthless punches to his downed opponent. Three wins in a row was enough to win back the faith of the same fans that saw Hunt beat Wanderlei and Cro Cop not too long ago. The underground vein of MMA fandom had begun to pulse radically. And when Alistair Overeem had to pull out of his title fight with Junior Dos Santos, an unforgettable Twitter campaign began. The #Rally4MarkHunt trended respectably within the MMA community as a plea for the "Super Samoan" to fill in and take the fight on extremely short notice. Though UFC President Dana White quashed this effort early on, but the passion that Hunt's followers displayed showed that Mark Hunt was giving people a cause to get behind: the support of a fighter that no one thought could do what he had just accomplished. Fast forward one year when Hunt found himself back in Japan against a top ten opponent, Stefan Struve. The two battered each other from pillar to post, and Hunt was even able to withstand getting mounted by the much-larger Dutchman. In the third round, Struve got backed up with some hard shots and left himself open to a thunderous Hunt left hook that broke his jaw, the referee stopping the fight as Struve lay limp on the ground. Alistair Overeem pulled out of yet another fight with Junior Dos Santos and as a testament to his fans' devotion, a second #Rally4MarkHunt began. This time, White understood, Hunt had rightfully earned himself a spot at the top of the division and would be a worthy replacement for The Reem.  Mark Hunt vs. Junior Dos Santos was announced for UFC 160 on May 25 2013.  Yet like always, the odds are against Mark Hunt in this fight.  Analysts will note JDS's superior athleticism, speed, Nogueira-trained ground-game and vicious uppercut that even Roy Nelson could not avoid. No one questions Hunt's toughness and power, but on paper JDS is a younger, more technical fighter and it would require perhaps more of a luck than skill, a.k.a. the "punchers chance," for Hunt to win. One just has to look at Hunt's victory in the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix to find out whether Hunt has prevailed in this situation before. Hunt fought Jerome La Banner, who had beaten Hunt before. Hunt could have taken an easier route to the tournament finals by choosing a different opponent, but he instead called out La Banner right away. La Banner was brutally knocked out in one of the most horrific KO's in K-1 history. Hunt went on to defeat his next two opponents and win the most prestigious championship in the sport of kickboxing. Now, Hunt once again finds himself faced with a task that seems impossible to overcome. 39-years-old and the armour-chinned hulk with rocket fuel in his fists faces Junior Dos Santos this Saturday night at UFC 160. A victory will surely earn him a shot at the heavyweight championship. Neither fighter will go down with one solid shot in a clash that has "fight of the year" written all over it. As the legendary Samoan plods forward evermore, the chimes of destiny ring softly and golden dreams gleam once more in the heart of a man who knows the feeling all too well.  
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