As MMA gains increasing popularity, it’s only a matter of time before more Hollywood films are made to cash in on the bloodsport phenomenon. We don’t even need to see them to know how the scenario goes: a guy or gal pulls themselves up from their bootstraps by fighting in cages to find success and meaning in their lives. Eventually they’ll reach that pinnacle moment where everything will come together to make a happy story with that one big win.

In a lot of ways, UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt is writing his own script for the next feel-good/redemption story with his current run to becoming a No. 1 contender. But, to be honest, the odds are definitely not in his favor to be the leading man that hoists the newly won championship belt over his head before the credits roll. As we know, movies are just a brief reprieve from reality. It gives us a reason to get out of the house and have something hopeful and interesting to talk about. But eventually that lingering cynicism will creep back into our lives, because we’ve been around long enough to know life doesn’t always produce happy endings.

Even if you’re on the side of Hunt and his epic run through the UFC ranks, it’s still not cynical to say that he doesn’t have the greatest chance to beat the top contenders. He has buzz-sawed his way through increasingly better competition, but now that he’s set to face one of the sport’s elite in Junior dos Santos, a healthy amount of apprehension towards his chances of success is warranted.

In this way, Hunt is eerily similar to fellow heavyweight Roy Nelson. They’re both knocking off any opponent that flirts with being in the mix, but they can’t quite seem to break into the next level themselves.

Now, it might be a tad bit premature to say that is the case for Hunt, since he’s yet to face the best of the best in the UFC on his current run. He’s gone 4-1 since joining the Zuffa ranks, with his only failure being a forgivable submission loss to Sean McCorkle in his promotional debut. However, before entering the UFC, Hunt was on a five-fight skid against the likes of Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Gegard Mousasi.

Like Nelson, we can reasonably hold Hunt to the same level of skepticism when it comes to being a truly elite fighter. But we also have to give him the same credit of approval for winning in imposing fashion to earn himself bigger fights. Hunt is beating guys impressively on his current streak, and coupled with his background of coming into the UFC with a losing record, the fans are mostly on his side. And that counts for something, at least in a promotional sense.

Hunt is ready to take a step forward, but against dos Santos, it’s more like a steep climb. We only have to look back to his most recent fight against Stefan Struve at UFC on Fuel TV 8 to point to our apprehensions of why Hunt might not do as well against the strongest competition.

The first two rounds of his fight against the lanky Dutchman saw each fighter battle from their opponent’s guard. Hunt showed solid scrambles and avoided major damage while on his back (and from being mounted), which points to the New Zealander as having developed a competent defense. It will be important for Hunt to remain off of his back against the Yuri Carlton-trained black belt. It might come down to a battle of strength if dos Santos is content to try to out-grapple his opponent. With both Hunt and dos Santos preferring the stand-up aspect of the sport, perhaps doing enough to simply get back to his feet if the fight hits the floor will be sufficient for Hunt.

Even then, dos Santos is regarded as one of the best boxers in the heavyweight division. Just look at dos Santos’ entire UFC resume and you will see how his hands have helped him to keep each of his opponents at bay or was able finish them off—with the exception of the second fight with Cain Velasquez. Hunt has only had one knockout loss in his 16-fight MMA career, which was to the renowned striker Melvin Manhoef, so we know he can take a punch. But that’s not exactly the issue here.

What will be important is which fighter can wade through the punishment of heavy leather in order to deal a crippling blow. The way that Hunt faded by the third round against Struve doesn’t bode well for him if a fight against dos Santos goes longer than two rounds. Dos Santos was able to batter Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson by keeping them at bay with punches for three rounds. It’s a pattern that Hunt could easily fall victim to, especially once fatigue sets in.

We know that Hunt can pack a wallop with his punches—he proved as much by breaking Struve’s jaw with a monster punch in their fight—and that really is his best bet against any fighter, however limited it might speak to his overall offensive arsenal. In forming his strategy, Hunt will likely study tape of how two-time champion Velasquez knocked the fight out of dos Santos in their rematch. In that fight, Velasquez landed devastating punches against dos Santos, but the former champion did not go down. However, his presence in the fight wilted considerably after eating such big shots. Hunt had better come with severe pressure early on in order to throw the Brazilian off of his game and take the fighting spirit out of him the way Velasquez was able to do.

With all that said, the best hope for Hunt is to keep it standing and land hard shots before the battle sails into deep waters. He’s not a highly conditioned athlete, but more of an extremely hard-hitting striker. At this level of competition against a former champion who is well-rounded and has the experience of preparation for championship fights, Hunt can’t have gaps in his game plan, because they will be exploited by a prime fighter like dos Santos.

This is likely where the hopes of Hunt adding another head to his collection end. Dos Santos is an intimidating challenger for anyone, and for a guy like Hunt who doesn’t have an advantage in age, physique or overall skill level, it would be thoughtless to steam ahead on the “Super Samoan’s” hype train.

Not to say that one punch can’t end it all—this is the heavyweight division we’re talking about. But dos Santos is coming off his first loss in 11 fights at the hands of the best heavyweight in the world. He’ll likely come into this bout with a head full of stream to reclaim his spot as the top guy. We have to take into perspective that Hunt is riding a streak over guys such as Ben Rothwell, Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve—a less distinguished run when compared to dos Santos’ before his recent loss.

In a lot of ways, Hunt’s redeeming story up to this point has allowed us to expel the doubts that he’s not going to make it all the way to the top. But it just seems more likely that he’ll be joining the ranks of guys like Nelson, who is a very good fighter but one that can’t defeat the great fighters.

A loss to dos Santos might not make the best ending for a film based on Hunt’s story, but his time in the UFC has certainly struck a chord with audiences. He’s an improbable protagonist whose story has given us hope, even if it’s unlikely to have a fairy-tale ending.

Photo: Mark Hunt celebrates victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.