At 38 years old, it would be easy to assume the best of Mark Hunt's fighting career is behind him...and he would be quick to tell you otherwise.
The "Super Samoan" is in the midst of a career resurgence as the former K-1 champion has collected three consecutive victories inside the Octagon. It is a stark turnabout from three years ago where Hunt found himself on the business end of a string of losses, including his UFC debut where he was defeated by journeyman Sean McCorkle at UFC 119.
Rather than dwell on the downside, Hunt jumped back into looking to sort things out inside the cage. In his next bout at UFC 127, the New Zealand-native fought his way back into the win column and has been building momentum ever since. He will be looking to keep things rolling this weekend in Japan when he faces Stefan Struve in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV 8.
"I don't know what was wrong to be honest," Hunt said about his losing streak. "I trained hard at American Top Team and I still lost my first fight in the UFC against McCorkle. That was my sixth straight loss and people were telling me I needed to hang it up. But why should I? I'm one of the best fighters in the world. I really don't know what it was back then and why I was losing those fights. Maybe it took me fighting back home in Sydney and being in a situation where I needed to win. By God's grace I was able to get a win there and get back on track. It has been great ever since.
The bout with the Dutch "Skyscraper" has the potential to vault the victor into the contender's tier of the heavyweight division. Both fighters are riding solid win streaks and their bout comes at a time when the avenue to a heavyweight title shot is wide open. While the situation could present plenty of pressure, Hunt has made peace with letting the chips fall where they may against Struve.
"I'm going to give it my all and see where it goes," Hunt said. "I'm not fighting for a draw and if I win, I win, if I lose, I lose. I'm going to leave it all inside the Octagon.
"I don't think I'm going to be playing a range game with him at all. Stefan is such a big, tall guy, it would be pretty dumb of me to try to take him out from the outside. It is a strange match-up when you have a tall guy versus a short guy, but in the end, the best fighter will win. Which should be me of course. But we will see what happens."
While competing in front of the well-versed Japanese crowd is something most fighters dream of, the process is somewhat of an old hat to Hunt. With over a decade of experience competing in Japanese-based promotions, Hunt has built a strong fan base in the "Land of the Rising Sun."
On Saturday night, he will once again look to put on a show for the Japanese fans and grateful for the support they show him.
"It feels great to fight in Japan," Hunt said. "I've been there over 60 times and it feels good to be back. Every fighter likes to compete in front of fans who appreciate and understand the sport they are watching. Japan is great about that. They are educated about mixed martial arts and I really enjoy fighting in front of them."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.