Mark Hunt and the 3 Strangest Success Stories in UFC History
Just as he’s quick to pull the plug on a presumably boring fighter’s career, UFC president Dana White has a propensity to give exciting fighters second chances.
One of those explosive fighters, volatile heavyweight Mark Hunt, got his opportunity from White through a technicality in the midst of the most miserable and self-destructive stretch of his career.
A former standout in K-1, Hunt went on a four-year winless drought that spanned from July 2006 to February 2011. In that stretch, Hunt lost six straight fights, astoundingly dropping five by submission and one by KO.
But because of strings attached to Zuffa's deal with Japan's Pride Fighting Championships organization, Hunt had the option of collecting a paycheck without ever fighting in the UFC.
But five losses into his losing streak, Hunt told White that he wanted to fight, so matchmaker Joe Silva paired him with Sean McCorkle at UFC 119.
At the time, White's decision to allow Hunt to fight in the most prominent organization in the world appeared foolish, especially since the New Zealander appeared content simply collecting paychecks in his waning days in Japan.
Three wins later, however, Hunt, a star in his early days in Pride, once again stands of on the brink of fighting the world’s best.
But Hunt isn’t the only seemingly down-and-out fighter who received a second chance from White.
Here’s a look at three other fighters who took similarly strange paths to success in the UFC.
Constantinos Philippou made his initial appearance with the promotion on The Ultimate Fighter Season 11 premiere when he lost his preliminary-round bout against Joseph Henle.
Henle absorbed a beating for the better part of two rounds before slapping on a fight-ending armbar to stop Philippou from moving into the house.
Fortunately for the UFC, White had the foresight to sign the venomous Philippou and pass on journeyman Henle.
While he went 5-0-1 in mid-tier promotions following his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, Henle suffered a brutal loss to Elvis Mutapcic (leg kicks) in his most recent outing in the Maximum Fighting Championships in October.
Philippou, on the contrary, has reeled off five straight wins in the UFC since dropping his opener to Nick Catone (unanimous decision).
More importantly, Philippou has improved his grappling dexterity radically by training with the likes of Chris Weidman at the Serra-Longo Fight Team.
Philippou put his new-found grappling prowess on display in the most significant victory of his career when he TKO’d Tim Boetsch at UFC 155.
The win over Boetsch not only propelled Philippou to No. 5 on the UFC’s official middleweight rankings list, it also solidified White’s decision to sign him over Henle.
Granted, Jamie Varner possessed the boxing and wrestling pedigrees to win and defend the WEC lightweight belt twice before passing it over to current UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson at WEC 46.
But Varner fell on some harsh times following his setback to Henderson in 2010, scoring just one win in his next five fights. Varner mustered a submission win over Tyler Combs in a bout in the XFO, but dropped decisions to Donald Cerrone and Dakota Cochrane and got choked by Shane Roller, who’s currently retired.
The former Lock Haven University wrestler wisely stuck with his dream, and after two straight wins in the XFC, finally got a stroke of luck when White asked him to replace Evan Dunham against budding prospect Edson Barboza at UFC 146.
Many, including the oddsmakers, considered Varner a sacrificial lamb against the lethal Barboza, the man who had knocked Terry Etim into another stratosphere with a spinning wheel kick at UFC 142.
Varner evidently reveled in the underdog role against Barboza, however, aggressively blitzing the Brazilian and finishing him with punches against the fence late in the first round. Sherdog.com later awarded Varner the upset of the year for the win.
Varner, who followed his win over Barboza by grabbing a $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus for his loss to Joe Lauzon, bested Melvin Guillard at UFC 155 to stamp his comeback and preserve his spot in the UFC's deep stable of lightweights.
Seven years into his career and at the age of 30, few UFC decision makers, with the exception of White, expected Matt Serra to bounce back and revive his career after suffering several disappointing losses in the promotion.
But the resilient Serra did just that after joining the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback. Serra prevailed impressively over both Pete Spratt and rival Shonie Carter before outlasting Chris Lytle in the season finale.
The win over Lytle guaranteed Serra a welterweight title shot against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69.
In unprecedented fashion, Serra made White and his constituents look like geniuses when he TKO’d the heavily favored St-Pierre in the first round to snatch the belt.
Although Serra relinquished his belt to "GSP" in their rematch at UFC 83, that didn't diminish the fact that he stunned the MMA community by rising from the ashes to capture the welterweight strap.