Opinion: The Old Man and the Beast

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Getting old sucks. Your body starts to ache and creak in places you didn’t think possible. Youthful vitality slowly erodes into vague weakness and general malaise. Simple tasks become more labored and painful. The ability to get excited fades, thinking fogs and things like sleeping and standing cause lower back pain. It gets harder to keep up with the pace of a rapidly changing world, and all the while there are younger, sharper people nipping at your heels, impatiently waiting to render you obsolete.

Indeed, getting old sucks -- unless you’re Mark Hunt.

The 43 year-old “Super Samoan” on Saturday penned another chapter in one of the unlikeliest careers the sport has ever seen. The longtime combat sports veteran with over 50 combined fights in MMA and kickboxing took out a younger, more athletic Derrick Lewis in the fourth round of their UFC Fight Night 110 main event in Auckland, New Zealand, snapping Lewis’ six-fight win streak -- one of the longest in the history of the heavyweight division.

A number of factors make Hunt one of the most improbable characters to loiter around relevancy. Though he’s sneakily crafty and reliably exciting to watch, there’s little else about Hunt’s career that has resembled consistency. After reeling off five straight wins in Pride Fighting Championships, including wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Filipovic, he then lost six straight, topped off by a 63-second submission loss to Sean McCorkle in his UFC debut. He was finished in all six of those fights.

That he rebounded from a demoralizing losing streak to win four straight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship is remarkable enough on its face, but the story behind that is even more unbelievable. When the UFC absorbed Pride, before Hunt had the chance to tap out to “Big Sexy” McCorkle, UFC President Dana White and company reportedly offered Hunt $450,000 to walk away. That’s more money to not fight than most fighters on the UFC roster make to actually fight. A lesser man would have leaped at the opportunity; it takes a special kind of mentality to turn down a six-figure payday for not doing anything. Yet that’s exactly what Hunt did, and who he is. In his own words from the post-fight press conference this weekend: “I like to get beat up. There’s nothing else I’m good at.” For the record, the decision to turn down that money has been a lucrative one for Hunt, who has made nearly as much in “Performance of the Night” bonuses alone.

With an overall UFC record of 8-5-1, Hunt has kept pace with a division that, while old, is still much younger than him. Other than his McCorkle misstep, Hunt has only lost to champions. His losses have all been devastating to varying degrees, suffering vicious, highlight-reel knockouts at the hands, feet and knees of Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem, as well as being on the wrong end of Sherdog’s 2015 “Beatdown of the Year” against Stipe Miocic. None of that has been enough to get him to hang up the gloves yet.

Mixed martial arts is objectively a young man’s sport. So far in 2017, fighters younger than their opponents have won 61 percent of all UFC bouts. This ignores fights where both competitors were born in the same year, as well as any overturned decisions. Not surprisingly, that pattern was more pronounced when the age gap was wider. Of course, there’s more to a matchup than relative age, but as a shorthand that spans over 150 fights, it’s a telling statistic. Whether it’s years, losing streaks or dollars, Hunt doesn’t seem to pay any mind to the numbers.

What made his UFC Fight Night 110 win special, however, was not just that it was another example of the his successful stubbornness. Lewis is arguably his most impressive win in the UFC. “The Black Beast” was streaking through the division. His six straight wins tied Werdum and Andrei Arlovski as the third longest, uninterrupted win streak in UFC heavyweight history, trailing only Cain Velasquez (seven) and dos Santos (nine). He did so while finishing five of those six opponents and slowly increasing the level of competition. For all his technical and cardiovascular deficiencies, Lewis is no joke. His physical presence and raw power have left many victims unconscious in the center of the Octagon. Against Hunt -- a smaller, slower, older fighter well-past his peak -- Lewis was primed to extend his streak and continue along his path to heavyweight stardom; and yet, by the end of the fight, it was the 32-year-old Lewis, not his 43-year-old foe, who talked about retirement.

Such is the nature of MMA, especially in the upside-down world of the heavyweight division. Age is usually a good indicator of how a fighter will fare in the cage, which makes sense given the athletic demands of fighting at this level. Especially when your occupation magnifies the physical decline that accompanies aging, getting old sucks -- unless you’re Mark Hunt.

Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.
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