On Saturday, May 25th, Mark Hunt will attempt to continue his improbable ascension to the top of the heavyweight ranks when he takes on former champion Junior Dos Santos at UFC 160. Three years ago, this matchup would have seen like something out of a bad dream. Mark Hunt was 5-7 having lost to Sean McCorkle by straight armbar at UFC 119. Meanwhile, Junior Dos Santos defeated former Ultimate Fighter winner Roy Nelson in a one-side beatdown and looked like the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division.
Nowadays, Hunt has developed a passable ground game that has kept him alive long enough to beat guys like Stefan Struve; the old Hunt would have been easily submitted by a fighter like Struve. The power that we all knew and loved from his PRIDE days is still there and his chin is still as strong as ever. In the weak heavyweight division, that is enough to propel a fighter towards a title shot.
Unfortunately, though Hunt is a K1 Grand Prix Champion, he is facing a more skilled MMA striker in Dos Santos. “Cigano’s” game is based less on power (though he does have that) and more on speed and technique. Hunt will always be in the fight with his inhuman power and chin but if he wants to take a victory, he has to touch Dos Santos early. Hunt has never had a particularly strong gas tank and if his last bout against Struve is any indication, Hunt needs to avoid the third round at all costs. Hunt has to come out swinging and put down Dos Santos before the Brazilian can threaten him with takedowns.
Though Dos Santos is probably not as good of a submission specialist as Struve, he would still be better off taking Hunt to the ground then standing with him. If he can drag Hunt to the floor, he can avoid Hunt’s only route to victory. Once he’s there he can patiently fish for a submission or at least pound on Hunt for three rounds. Struve’s mistake was that he was impatient and over-aggressive on the ground, which got him out of position at times. Dos Santos just needs to be patient and trust that his Jiu Jitsu will be enough to eventually submit Hunt.
If Dos Santos wants the bragging rights of out-boxing a K1 Grand Prix Champion, then I guess he could stand with Hunt. But that’s the only way I can see it happening. Expect Dos Santos to take Hunt down early and pound him into a submission victory.