MMA’s Christmas Day approaches for Ultimate Fighting Championship fans across the globe.
Archenemies Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones were to headline the most anticipated fight card of 2016 at UFC 200, but in Jones’ shocking absence, former champion Brock Lesnar takes a break from World Wrestling Entertainment and returns to the Octagon to collide with 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt.
The rest of the four-fight main card features a pair of title fights and the return of another former heavyweight champion, while the undercard is filled with ex-titleholders, hot prospects, “Ultimate Fighter” winners and aging but proud veterans.
Let us take a closer look at each matchup at UFC 200 with analysis and picks:
HeavyweightsBrock Lesnar (5-3) vs. Mark Hunt (12-10-1)
THE MATCHUP: So Lesnar’s back. After close to a five-year layoff from MMA, it is impossible to say what Lesnar, now 38 years old, will look like. So we must deal in likelihoods and look to the past. What we know about Lesnar’s MMA career is that he was a behemoth who crushed his opponents on the ground -- and a keen student who quickly picked up the techniques to facilitate this style. We also know that Lesnar, though not fragile, had psychological issues with being hit cleanly and that diverticulitis robbed him of the last few years of his career, leaving him a depleted man.
Hunt’s prospects are far less uncertain. Though he has had his ups and downs, Hunt has been remarkably reliable in the five years since Lesnar’s retirement. He has shown himself to be a crafty, patient striker -- a style he seems to have adopted as a result of aging -- and a very stout defensive wrestler, though men like Stipe Miocic and Antonio Silva have managed to put him on his back after a few rounds of back-and-forth action.
Should Hunt end up underneath Lesnar, he will likely have an even worse time than he did against Miocic. Layoff aside, Lesnar’s top game has always been ferocious. He likes to pass to half guard, immobilize one of his opponent’s arms and pound away with his free hand while the other man wriggles and squirms. Factor in Lesnar’s sheer size and you have yourself a very unenviable position.
Lesnar is not, however, as crafty a takedown artist as Miocic, nor as good a striker -- not even close. Hunt remains one of the best kickboxers in the heavyweight division, having knocked out Roy Nelson, outstruck Silva and fought tooth-and-nail with Junior dos Santos. Not only is Hunt a powerful puncher, but he is a crafty one, as well, using his snaking jab to set up overhands and uppercuts, waiting all the while for the chance to slide back and club his advancing adversary with a counter left hook. Comfortable fighting with a low guard, Hunt is capable of doing all of this while staying ready to grab underhooks should his opponent close the gap.
THE ODDS: Hunt (-170), Lesnar (+145) (Lesnar is the 7/5 underdog with 32Red Australia)
THE PICK: This is essentially a two-true-outcome fight. Either Lesnar climbs on top of Hunt and turns him into paste or Hunt liquefies Lesnar’s legs with a clean punch on the feet. Hunt has been fighting consistently for the last half-decade, while Lesnar has not. Hunt has stout takedown defense, while Lesnar’s striking defense has always been shaky. Perhaps most importantly, Hunt can take a savage beating. Hunt may not actually be more durable than Lesnar, but his mindset is better suited to tough fights. Hunt never stops looking for a path to victory, while in the past it has taken only a few clean shots to convince Lesnar that defeat is certain. This is not an unwinnable fight for Lesnar, but the seasoned determination of Hunt is one tough obstacle. The likes of Unibet price the fight at 17/4 to go the distance, but the pick is Hunt by second-round TKO.
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