Over the past five years, Mark Hunt has morphed from an also-ran whom the UFC tried to pay to stay away from the Octagon into a heavyweight contender who could always be counted on for an exciting fight and, if the stars aligned, an out-of-nowhere walk-off knockout punch.
It was a good role. And it was a remarkable turnaround for a man once considered among the worst heavyweights in mixed martial arts. Such was his pride that he would not accept the UFC's offer of a buyout of his PRIDE contract to stay at home.
He wanted to fight.
And fight he did, with unbelievable success. He lost to Sean McCorkle in this first UFC bout but then reeled off four consecutive wins, with three knockouts among them. Suddenly, he faced the divisional elite in Junior dos Santos and lost. There was the epic draw with Antonio Silva that was so exciting it inspired Dana White to have a special one-off T-shirt made in honor of the fight. And then Hunt beat Roy Nelson, again with a walk-off knockout, and wonder of wonders, Hunt found himself in a fight for the interim heavyweight championship.
He lost that fight, but the notion he was there at all is remarkable. Even with a complete and utter lack of cardiovascular endurance, Hunt's outsized heart and iron fists allowed him to persevere where others faltered. We saw more of that heart Saturday night in Adelaide, Australia, when Hunt faced down one of the heavyweight division's best prospects in Stipe Miocic.
But the heart wasn't enough. It kept him in the fight when others would have quit, but he couldn't cope with Miocic's game plan of keeping Hunt off his feet, wrestling him to the mat and refusing to play into the kind of Hunt-style fight that makes for a thrilling bout but is ultimately the most dangerous kind of combat when facing a world-class kickboxer like Hunt.
But man, that heart. There may be no other fighter in the sport as courageous as Hunt. His face was battered, and he couldn't open his eyes. Miocic utterly destroyed him for the better part of Rounds 2, 3, 4 and 5, and still Hunt endured. He kept getting back to his feet, even moments after it seemed like a referee stoppage would be the best and most merciful thing for him.
He just kept going.
Even after the fourth round, when the ringside doctor came in to check on Hunt's battered face, The Super Samoan insisted he could continue fighting. He couldn't even open his eyes, but he insisted he could go on. It was not the best of his decisions, but Hunt has never been the guy who makes decisions with his brain. He makes them with his heart, and his heart told him he was still in the fight.
He wasn't, of course. Miocic is a new generation of fighter, well-rounded and smart, and Hunt was overmatched from the opening bell. But even in losing a one-sided decision, Hunt won.
No, he didn't win the fight. Not even close. But the legend of Mark Hunt, warrior and fighter, continued to grow. The referee finally stopped the fight in the fifth round, long after he should have, but even then Hunt appeared dejected, as though he felt he could have persisted even when he could not.
Miocic's future went slightly off course with perhaps an unjust loss to Junior dos Santos, but he is back. He fought a smart fight against a man with knockout power in both of his hands. He'll soldier on, and the idea of Miocic facing Cain Velasquez down the road is an appealing one.
For Hunt, though, the end seems near. He is 41 years old, and his 10-10-1 record does not remotely begin to show the side effect of the wars he has been involved in. He has much to offer the mixed martial arts world, even if his brief glory days of competing with the heavyweight elite are over. Young fighters can look to his indomitable heart and will—and his courage to continue fighting—to keep scrambling up from the ground even when staying down is probably the better and smarter option.
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report.