Mark Hunt is a man who has seen his ups and downs during more than two decades of fighting.
The 2001 K-1 world grand prix champion, Hunt transitioned to mixed martial arts in 2004 and won five of his first six bouts before dropping six straight fights. Though initially unwanted by the UFC during the organization’s buyout of Pride, Hunt shocked many observers by winning four straight contests after stumbling in his UFC debut.
Now, the 39-year-old likely stands just one victory away from a title shot, as the New Zealander meets former champion Junior dos Santos on Saturday night at UFC 160. Although many fans and media members counted Hunt out during his losing streak, the heavyweight recently told Sherdog.com that he never lost faith in himself.
“Other people may be surprised, but I’ve always believed I was the best fighter in the world,” Hunt said. “I’m just trying to prove it in a different sport. Twelve years after winning the K-1 world title -- whatever happened in between -- it just shows that I’m not a quitter. You understand that? I’m here till the end.
“It’s been 22 years [I’ve been] a fighter. I had my first fight a week after meeting my first trainer. When God says it’s time for me to be done, then I’m done. In my heart, I still think I’m supposed to be fighting,” Hunt continued. “That’s why I’m still here, after six losses in a row, getting beaten down and still coming back. It’ll happen when I’m told it’s going to happen. If it comes this weekend that I don’t feel like fighting anymore, that’s what’s going to happen, but they’ll have to carry me out of the cage. I’ll go out on my back. I don’t give a damn.”
In dos Santos, Hunt faces a heavy-handed Brazilian whose lone UFC loss came to reigning champion Cain Velasquez. Much like his opponent, “Cigano” has earned the vast majority of his victories by way of knockout, a fact of which Hunt -- a man known for his iron chin and punching power -- is well aware.
“It’s the heavyweight division, and anything can make this really, really dangerous for the other person. Honestly, if he thinks there’s not going to be [danger] if I touch him with anything, he’s going to be in trouble,” said Hunt. “I’ve always said that anyone can be knocked out. It’s just a matter of where, when and how you get hit. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit. It’s just a matter of timing. If they get it right, you’re done.”