With Alistair Overeem's potential removal from a UFC 146 title fight against heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, Mark Hunt has become one of the most popular suggestions to serve as a replacement.
While the former K-1 World Grand Prix champion would make for a very entertaining opponent in a stand-up fight with dos Santos, Hunt simply isn't ready to step into the Octagon for a MMA fight with the world's top heavyweight.
Though Hunt is in the midst of a three-fight winning streak, fans seem to have forgotten quickly that the New Zealand native had recently been finished in six straight fights and was offered money to back out of his UFC contract.
"When we bought Pride, [Hunt] came as part of the Pride deal," UFC president Dana White said at the UFC 135 post-fight press conference. "It was back-and-forth and basically I was just like, 'We'll just pay you off. We know you're in the Pride deal.' Mark Hunt said, 'No, I want to come. I want to fight.'"
Hunt's subsequent turnaround has been one of the best stories of the past year, but that alone doesn't make him a legitimate option as a top contender for the heavyweight crown.
The former kickboxer has been excellent on his feet in his past three fights, knocking out Chris Tuchscherer and Cheick Kongo. However, Hunt has still not successfully proven that his ground game, which was mostly to blame for his six-fight skid from 2006 through 2010, has improved enough for him to be capable of a competitive fight with best heavyweight in the entire sport.
During the longest losing streak of his career, Hunt met none other than Overeem, the fighter many believe he should replace at UFC 146. Though he looked good in the short time the fight remained standing, the quickness in which Hunt was submitted once the fight hit the canvas showed how far he was from being able to compete with the world's best heavyweights on the ground.
Now, even being submitted by an Overeem who took the fight on less than one week notice is not something to be embarrassed about. Despite being known for his accomplishments in kickboxing, Overeem is very dangerous on the ground and has also submitted the likes of Igor Vovchanchyn and Vitor Belfort.
What did become concerning for Hunt was the fact that he proceeded to lose his next three fights in 80 seconds or less, culminating in an embarrassing submission defeat against Sean McCorkle in his UFC debut.
It was that 63-second armbar loss to an opponent who was recently knocked out by the relatively unknown Brian Heden that leaves this writer wanting to see more from Hunt before he is thrown into the cage with an athlete like dos Santos.
The potential for a stand-up war and Hunt's likable I'll-fight-anyone-anywhere attitude seem to be blinding some fans from the clear fact that there are other heavyweights out there who are more deserving of a title fight and more capable of competing with the champion in all areas.
While we haven't seen much of it during his UFC career, dos Santos' ground game has to be expected to be good enough to easily deal with Hunt on the canvas.
The Brazilian took Shane Carwin, an NCAA Division II champion wrestler, to the ground with a textbook double-leg takedown in June 2011. If dos Santos' wrestling was good enough to ground Carwin nearly one year ago, it would be safe to say the 27-yer-old has continued to improve and should have little problem putting Hunt on his back.
Once on the ground, dos Santos' extensive training with the Nogueira brothers would come into play and should certainly have molded him into a fighter capable of replicating something McCorkle was able to do.
At the end of the day, fighter's like Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum have done a better job of proving themselves over the long haul to be more deserving of a championship fight.
If Hunt continues to improve and beats a top-level heavyweight, he could fight for the belt before his career comes to a close, but his time is not now.
Of course, considering the fact that the UFC has still not announced a replacement for Overeem, there is probably more to the former Strikeforce champion's failed drug test than we are aware of. Don't be surprised if, after all of this discussion, it is Overeem who is standing across the cage from dos Santos next month.
Sean Smith is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. For the latest insight and updates on everything MMA, Follow Sean Smith on Twitter
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