The battle for the interim UFC heavyweight belt at UFC 180 this coming Saturday is one of the most intriguing matches in recent years. It may not be the original main event, but it surely will have just as much fireworks.
The Unlikely Challenger
To say that Mark Hunt is an unlikely title challenger is an understatement. The 40-year old Super Samoan has defied convention to challenge for the interim UFC heavyweight title at the main event of UFC 180. First of all, Hunt’s MMA record is an unimpressive 10-8-1 with 7 knockouts. In the UFC though, he is 5-2-1 with 4 KOs. But he has not won back to back fights since 2010 and was coming off a loss to Junior Dos Santos, then a draw with Big Foot Silva before beating Roy Nelson last September.
Not only that, but Hunt was also in the middle of his celebration after his big win over Big Country when the UFC came calling with barely a month left before UFC 180. Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez tore his MCL in training and the UFC needed someone to face Fabricio Werdum on such a short notice. Hunt knew he had too little time to prepare, but fighting for the belt could be something that may never come again for a 40-year old fighter. So, an overweight Hunt packed up his bags and headed straight for the gym.
The betting lines opened with Werdum at -230 and Hunt +180. As the fight has drawn nearer, the lines are more stacked against Hunt with Werdum now a -385 and Hunt a +380.
The reason why Hunt is a major underdog in this fight isn’t because of his record, it’s because of the physical condition that he could be in. Hunt started his just three weeks of training at over 300 pounds and he’s kept talking about being 35 pounds over the division’s 265-pound limit. On the other hand, Fabricio Werum has been training in high altitude for Cain Velasquez. Werdum has slowly evolved from being a great jiu jistu practitioner to a complete fighter who can do it all in the Octagon. So, what chance does Mark Hunt have?
Heavy Fists and Iron Chin
Almost everyone’s giving him so little chance to pull off the victory. But that little chance is what fight fans call the “puncher’s chance:. Hunt is one of the sport’s heaviest hitters, if not its biggest puncher. But what makes Mark Hunt special is that his freakish punching power is complemented by a granite chin that can withstand the heaviest blow in the UFC.
As Hunt said, he doesn’t care about “black belts and ground game.” Neither does he care if he’s fighting King Kong or Godzilla. What he truly believes is that once anybody gets hit in the face, it’s a different ballgame. And with a pressure fighter like Hunt, you’ll always believe he’ll land at least one big bomb – like the one that knocked out Roy Nelson for the first time ever. Werdum’s lost five times but he’s been knocked out only once and that was by Junior Dos Santos at UFC 90. On the other hand, Dos Santos couldn’t punch out Hunt at UFC 160, he knocked out Hunt with a spinning heel kick.
The Evolution of Werdum
Fabricio Werdum is the perfect example of evolution in the UFC. The once one dimensional master grappler who owns nine career submissions has slowly but surely developed a vicious striking game under the tutelage of Rafael Cordiero. His striking game is a beautiful combination of punches and kicks that slowly break down his opponents. His ground game is probably the best in the business. He’s got an incredible guard, excellent top control and perhaps the best submission game in the heavyweight division’s history. You’ve got a feeling that once Werdum takes this fight to the clinch or to the ground, it’s going to be game, set and match. Hunt may be the sport’s heaviest hitter, but the other facets of his game haven’t really evolved. That doesn’t mean though that he’s easy to put down. His 72.9% takedown defense is very credible but Werdum is the best grappler in the weight class.
A lot of fight experts are picking Werdum to win by submission late in the fight, although most of them also agree that Hunt does have the puncher’s chance and may be just as dangerous as Cain Velasquez in the striking game.