Two years ago, the prospect of watching hard-hitting heavyweights Mark Hunt and former UFC champ Junior dos Santos lock horns in the Octagon seemed like a far-fetched proposition.
Hunt had just snapped a six-fight losing skid with his first win in the UFC, while “Cigano,” was riding an impressive seven-fight winning streak that included five victories via knockout in the UFC.
But the once down-and-out Hunt has evolved radically in the last two years, revitalizing and ultimately transforming his volatile career with four straight wins.
His good fortune has landed him in an advantageous position that few envisioned him leveraging two years ago.
Hunt will square off with Cigano on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. UFC president Dana White has deemed the bout a de facto heavyweight title eliminator.
Since rendering Chris Tuchscherer unconscious at UFC 127 for his first win with the company, Hunt’s reeled off notable wins over Ben Rothwell (unanimous decision), Cheick Kongo (TKO) and Stefan Struve (TKO).
Hunt broke Struve’s jaw with a vicious leaping left hook in the third round of their enthralling fight at UFC on Fuel TV 8 to help his popularity reach new heights. The win also garnered him "Knockout of the Night" honors and catapulted “The Super Samoan” to No. 9 on the UFC’s heavyweight rankings.
Hunt, who decisioned the likes of Wanderlei Silva and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships, had already built a loyal allegiance of fans before joining the UFC.
With one-punch knockout power, sound technical striking chops and a jaw of steel, The Super Samoan represents the prototypical fighter that spectators of all walks of life can pull for.
Hunt also sports a Rocky-like persona that spawned when he began training after being discovered at a street fight outside a nightclub in Auckland, New Zealand.
Not only does The Super Samoan consistently invite a violent, back-and-forth brand of stand-up brawl, he also opposes most forms of ground fighting—unless of course he's in a dominant spot to strike in the top position.
If Hunt can continue to develop a defensive grappling prowess, then The Super Samoan could realistically threaten the UFC's heavyweight strap, regardless of who's holding it.
First, however, Hunt must get through the man that many considered indestructible before his last bout against champ Cain Velasquez at UFC 155.
Before getting brutalized and dropping a unanimous decision to Velasquez in their rematch, Dos Santos terrorized the UFC's heavyweight division winning nine straight fights, seven by way of knockout.
Cigano's dynamic skill set has influenced the oddsmakers to deem him a significant favorite to best Hunt. In fact, Bovada.com has named Dos Santos a 4.5-to-1 favorite (-450) to prevail at UFC 160.
He may not carry the oddsmakers' blessings, but that never stopped Hunt from pulling off an upset over a seemingly unbeatable opponent in the past.
One thing's certain, however; as long as Hunt continues to live the life of a head-hunter, The Super Samoan will always have a large contingency of fans behind him—win or lose.