Hunt booking not quite ‘business as usual’

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
2:24
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Mark HuntSusumu Nagao for ESPN.comAlistair Overeem's misfortune has officially turned into Mark Hunt's big opportunity.


Times like this, we’re reminded of words from the great philosopher Ferris Bueller, who warned us in his landmark 1986 work that, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Mixed martial arts fans who took an eye off the ball for even a moment this week might’ve missed the whirlwind saga leading up to Saturday’s confirmation that, yes, Mark Hunt will indeed face Junior dos Santos at UFC 160 in May.

Even by the standards of our sport’s frenzied (and often absurd) news cycle, this story was a doozy. It moved so quickly and changed so many times it was hard to track using old-fashioned methods like the written word.

Believe me, I know, this is the fourth time I’ve written this blog.

It began on Wednesday, with a vocal faction of fans virtually quaking with excitement at the notion Hunt might step in for the injured Alistair Overeem to take on dos Santos, in what might well turn out to be a heavyweight title eliminator. As groundswells nearly always do in MMA, the idea began on social media and the chorus quickly spread to include a handful of journalists who all thought Hunt was perfectly fit for a replacement role.

Things got dicey on Thursday when a short-lived Twitter kerfuffle briefly appeared to put UFC president Dana White and the 38-year-old “Super Samoan” at odds. For the sake of brevity, here’s a recap of the situation in fewer than 140 characters: After the UFC announced JDS would wait for Overeem, White said it was because Hunt turned down the fight. Hunt disagreed. Hence: An impasse.

It was all very breathless stuff, especially since just a day before, when the idea of Hunt-versus-dos Santos first began making the rounds online, Hunt told MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani to bring it on. “I'm always down for a battle,” he said. “I was born down. You know this." After Hunt responded to White’s statements with tweets insisting he’d never turned down a fight in his career, it appeared as if we had a veritable MMA soap opera playing out before our very public eyes.

It lasted all of an hour. One of the UFC’s specialties has always been putting out fires and this one took just 14 words to diffuse: “Mark Hunt and I just got off the phone and had a GREAT conversation,” White tweeted late Thursday night, just as the Internet gossip mavens began to sink their teeth in.

So, crisis resolved. The UFC and the most surprising heavyweight star on its roster were back on the same page. A day or so after that, here we are: Hunt-JDS is back on, too.

Thank goodness.
[+] EnlargeMark Hunt
Susumu Nagao for ESPN.comMark Hunt, left, has managed to turn his form around in a way few imagined was possible.

Even though we took a roundabout path to get here, booking this fight was the right move.

There would have been nothing wrong with waiting for Overeem to get healthy, of course. His bout with dos Santos would still have had all the trappings of an epic showdown whenever and wherever it finally happened. Still, elevating Hunt is a slam dunk, especially knowing the UFC’s distaste for delays, its fondness for guys who’ll “step up” when needed and its track record for giving its fans the fights they want to see.

There can be no denying that Hunt has earned this opportunity. His four-fight win streak is the second-longest in the heavyweight top 10, behind only Daniel Cormier’s 11-0 run. He’s captured the imagination and support of fans during the past two years by crafting one of the sport’s most improbable comeback stories. So far, he’s succeeded in a modern heavyweight landscape in which athletes of his particular ilk -- read: plodding and fairly one dimensional -- aren’t supposed to be up to snuff.

That’s precisely why the ensuing brawl with dos Santos will be so interesting. Because Hunt is such a throwback (and because of the six-fight losing streak that dogged him from 2006-10), there remains some uncertainty about how seriously to take him as a contender.

When he debuted at No. 9 on the ESPN.com heavyweight Power Rankings last week following his third-round knockout of Stefan Struve, it was the kind of thing that made you look twice. Mark Hunt, a top-10 heavyweight? It just sounded wrong, yet there he was on the list -- career .563 winning percentage and all -- sandwiched between Roy Nelson and Josh Barnett.

In fighting JDS, the perennial underdog Hunt gets his chance to prove that he belongs among the 265-pound division’s elite. In a sport where too often it feels like we’re trying to sort out who’s cheating, who’s got beef and who’s about to get cut, this is news we can all feel good about.

Now we just sit back and pray it doesn’t change again before May 25.

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