UFC heavyweight contender Mark Hunt is preparing for the biggest fight of his career this weekend, a showdown with former divisional ruler Junior dos Santos. With a victory, it would be almost impossible for the UFC to deny Hunt a crack at the heavyweight crown, the first title that he would fight for in the better part of a decade.
Fedor Emelianenko is the most accomplished heavyweight fighter in mixed martial arts history. The Russian export dominated the Pride Fighting Championship’s heavyweight division at a time when they housed the best big men in the industry.
When Shockwave 2006, their annual year-end super show, rolled around, Emelianeko had few viable challengers for his heavyweight title.
The Russian had defended the heavyweight championship twice, defeating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in their rematch and overcoming kickboxing star Mirko “Crop Cop” Filipovic, the consensus top contenders in the heavyweight ranks.
Pride officials scrambled to find a challenger for Emelianenko’s crown. Originally they had a rematch with Filipovic pegged as the main event for the biggest event of their calendar year but that bout never came to fruition.
“Cro Cop” sustained an injury to his foot in the finals of the 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix that concluded three months prior against Josh Barnett. On his official website the Croatian striker explained why he would not be competing at the Saitama Super Arena on New Years Eve:
“I still can’t kick like I want to. It’s the best that we give more time to this injury to heal. I want to be in perfect shape for my next fights.”
Onlookers were suspicious over the validity of the injury since he was speaking with UFC officials about joining the American based MMA organization at the time, and hours before the Shockwave 2006 event, UFC boss Dana White announced that Filipovic had signed a three fight deal with the promotion.
With no viable options on the horizon, Hunt’s phone inevitably rang.
Filipovic was the first kick boxer to cross over to MMA and have success, and Mark Hunt joined him soon after on Pride’s stacked roster.
The K-1 champ faltered in his first MMA bout, being submitted by Olypmic gold medal winning Judoka Hidehiko Yoshida before collecting five straight victories, including notable wins over Filipovic and Wanderlei Silva, the reigning Pride middleweight champion at the time.
Several months before he met Emelianenko, the knockout artist suffered another setback. Josh Barnett, the submission ace, exploited the biggest chink in the Kiwi’s armor, forcing him to submit with a kimura in a little more than two minutes.
Needless to say, Hunt was undeserving of the blockbuster match with the Pride titlist but, as he so often did throughout his time in PRIDE, he made the most of his opportunity.
The undersized heavyweight wasted no time dragging Hunt to the ground and worked for a belly-down armbar, but Hunt impressed onlookers with his improved submission chops, defending Emelianenko’s signature hold.
Hunt took top position and used his size and strength advantage, dominating a large chunk of the opening ten minute round and even looking for a key-lock on the champ.
With Hunt in the driver’s seat, it looked like one of the biggest upsets in mixed martial arts history was about to take place before Emelianenko restored order later in the bout with a Judo toss.
The stoic Russian dragged Hunt down to the Pride canvas. The exhausted Aussie tried to defend against Emelianenko’s submission skills but eventually fell victim to a kimura, handing Hunt his second of six straight losses.
This weekend Hunt has the chance to cement his spot as the top contender in the most talent rich UFC heavyweight division of all-tim, if he can overcome the huge task of dos Santos. Be sure to follow MMA Sucka for full results of the blockbuster card this Saturday night.