Following Mark Hunt over the past 18 months has been a buzzy ol' trip. With my #KiwiUFC cap on, Hunt has offered just as much intrigue and funk as Robert Whittaker, yet Whittaker has swiftly rise the middleweight ranks to blast down the door to an interim title fight against Yoel Romero. Hunt on the other hand has trended downwards since his Super Samoan walk-off KO of Frank Mir and that coincides with Hunt standing up for what's right, fighting the power.
Funnily enough though, that power is the same company that brings Hunt back to Aotearoa for his first MMA fight in the land of the long white cloud. Hunt has fought here before, but that was a Muay Thai fight and if we completely ignore Hunt's legal battle against the UFC, this is fine reward for an uso who has always done whatever the UFC has asked of him. When the UFC said fight, Hunt said when and where. When the UFC needed someone to facilitate the return of Brock Lesnar's sketchy return to the octagon, Hunt stepped up to the plate.
When the UFC needed someone to lead it's entry into Australia and generally take the UFC worldwide, Hunt fought nine of his last 13 fights outside of the USA. Five of those were in Australia, one in Mexico and two in Japan. Given that Hunt is based in Australia and that he's got a strong fighting history in Japan, Hunt has played a key role in expanding the UFC's horizons.
Whether it's the way Hunt has established himself as company man, or how Hunt is fighting for what he believes in and for the benefit of fighters in the UFC (also for the benefit of the UFC because if a fighter dies at the hands of someone who is on steroids, shit will hit the fan), we should be immensely proud of Hunt. Anyone in the UFC could take legal action against the UFC, Hunt's the only one who is actually willing to spark it up though.
Hunt is a company man who has helped the UFC almost as much as the UFC has helped him, that doesn't get in the way of Hunt standing up for what he believes in. Other fighters may not be willing to do as much as the UFC asks of Hunt and then once they get to Hunt's 'company man status', they sure as hell won't speak up against the UFC.
And now Hunt returns to Auckland to fight Derrick Lewis. Without Hunt, who has paved the way as a kiwi fighting out of Australia, we probably wouldn't have the second UFC event in Auckland, the quantity and quality of fighters out of Australia and Aotearoa probably wouldn't exists. That's the point that needs to be remembered throughout all of this and it's why I chuckle when kiwi mainstream media can't look past Hunt's legal fight against the UFC, or can't even perceive Hunt's actions as borderline heroic.
Regardless of how this fight goes - it should be nek level entertaining - and regardless of how the legal action goes, Hunt will go down in history as a MMA pioneer for this part of the world. Fighting in his home city and still with a chance to slide up the rankings, Hunt is getting some sort of reward for what he's done and the legacy he will leave. The best example of Hunt's legacy is there in Whittaker as Whittaker represents both Aotearoa and Australia. Sure, Hunt will say he's a kiwi and what not, but he's spent most of his career fighting out of Australia and Australia has probably given more to his career than Aotearoa.
Whittaker is preparing for his title fight and the UFC was never going to put such a big fight on a UFC Auckland card. Whittaker will however be present in Auckland for a Q&A session on fight day, which will be streamed live on Youtube and should be mandatory viewing for all #KiwiUFC fans if y'all aren't going to be there yourselves.
That's not such a bad outcome and there's a cute element to how Hunt is getting a fight in Auckland, a few weeks before Whittaker fights for an interim title and Whittaker is helping to promote the UFC in Auckland even though he's not fighting; this could be viewed as a passing of the torch, not only with regards to the old buck passing the torch to the young buck (who could be better) but also with regards to Whittaker following in Hunt's shoes to take on a lot of responsibility in promoting the UFC to kiwis and Aussies.
Hunt will be joined by Dan Hooker who takes on Brit Ross Pearson in a lightweight bout and just like Hunt needs a win to really stay relevant in his division, Hooker will hope a fight in Auckland will be the platform he requires to bump him closer towards a top-15 ranking. Hooker has lost three of his past five fights and two of his past three fights, while Pearson is coming off of three-straight losses, plus Hooker has returned to base himself in Auckland which will hopefully see him land a cheeky choke on Pearson.
The context of Hunt and Hooker's careers adds another splash of funky to UFC Auckland as they really, really need a win. Both are currently trending downwards and with a few recent losses, if they wish to stay in the mix of the UFC's deep roster they desperately need to start stacking up wins. You couldn't ask for a better setting then as the UFC has given Hunt and Hooker their (kinda) must-win fights, in their home city.
Luke Jumeau will also make his UFC debut, fighting Dominique Steele on the undercard in a welterweight bout. Jumeau has signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC and is 11-3-0 in his career, so it'll be interesting to see how he goes and whether he shows some potential as a UFC prospect.
As a South Aucklander, this card is all about Hunt though. Hunt is a South Auckland hero and much of the UFC's growth in Aotearoa and Australia is thanks to his presence. The chances of Hunt perfectly executing a walk-off KO/TKO are about as equal as Hunt getting caught by a lush shot from Lewis, nothing will take the shine of Hunt's first UFC fight in Aotearoa though.
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