Mark Hunt has three finishes during his four-fight winning streak. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
Junior dos Santos (15-2, 9-1 UFC) vs. Mark Hunt (9-7, 4-1 UFC)
The Matchup: If dos Santos hopes to set up a potential title trilogy with Cain Velasquez, he will have to get through a heavy-handed former K-1 World Grand Prix winner who has become a cult hero in MMA circles. It would have been laughable to call Hunt a major player on the heavyweight scene some three years ago, but with four straight Octagon victories -- three by knockout -- that is exactly what he is.
While Velasquez and dos Santos remain the cream of the UFC’s big man crop -- especially if Daniel Cormier still plans on eventually dropping to 205 pounds -- the race to move up the divisional ladder now includes unconventional types such as Hunt and Roy Nelson. Nelson has been close before but absorbed hellish beatings against “Cigano” and Fabricio Werdum that earned him accolades for his toughness but also demonstrated how far he is from truly being a title contender.
Now Hunt, coming off a knockout of Stefan Struve in which he broke the Dutchman’s jaw, has a chance to defy the odds. “The Super Samoan” has improved his submission defense to a point where it is no longer a glaring liability, allowing him more opportunity to unleash the thunder in his fists. Conditioning remains an issue for the New Zealand native, however, as he was obviously fatigued by the third round of his confrontation with Struve. Still, he had enough juice left to finish off his equally tired opponent on that night.
Although he suffered a lopsided defeat in his loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 155, dos Santos showed resilience in lasting the full five rounds; plenty of lesser fighters would have wilted under the withering pressure of the champion before then. The Brazilian will have a clear edge in stamina, but he must be careful not to be baited into a brawl with Hunt.
Dos Santos, of course, is far more technical than Hunt’s recent victims, and he has survived a combined six rounds with knockout-minded foes Nelson and Shane Carwin in previous bouts. Hunt lacks the jiu-jitsu game of Nelson and the wrestling chops of Carwin, but he does have an uncanny ability to lure opponents into his kind of fight. A cast-iron chin allows him to trade shots with most anyone, and he will be emboldened by the fact that dos Santos, a Team Nogueira protégé, rarely looks to land takedowns, although he was 2-for-2 against Carwin at UFC 131.
Dos Santos does not usually need to employ any sort of ground game because of his skilled and quick hands. He uses his jab to set up powerful hooks and uppercuts and is willing to work the body with his strikes, as well. Dos Santos’ use of movement and angles should limit countering opportunities for Hunt.
The Pick: Dos Santos’ precision will be evident throughout, and his output will only increase as Hunt becomes winded down the stretch. Hunt may be too tough to be finished by strikes, but he will absorb a fair amount of damage in losing a unanimous verdict.
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