MMA fans are a funny bunch sometimes, and often blindly loyal to their favorite fighters. Which is why many won’t admit a simple fact: when it comes to Mark Hunt, Dana White is right.
A little background: Mark Hunt, the popular former kickboxer turned comeback success story in the UFC, recently published an article (attributed to him, but that he would later refer to as an “interview”) for Australia’s Player’s Voice. In it, Hunt speaks of slurred speech and memory problems. He talks about dying fighting. It’s heavy stuff.
A little sample:
Sometimes I don’t sleep well. You can hear me starting to stutter and slur my words. My memory is not that good anymore. I’ll forget something I did yesterday but I can remember the shit I did years and years ago. That’s just the price I’ve paid – the price of being a fighter. But I’ve fought a lot of drug cheats and copped a lot of punishment from guys who were cheating and that’s not right.
Hunt was trying to make a point about performance enhancing drugs in the sport. He went on to say that he felt half his fights would be gone from his record if you removed the cheats he’s faced over the years. He might even have become champ.
In response to the article, the UFC pulled Hunt from the main event of next month’s UFC Sydney card.
Hunt would then lash out at the promotion, claiming on social media that his removal from UFC Fight Night 121 was more about his lawsuit against the UFC (over opponents on PEDs, and what the company knew) then about his health. He concluded by saying that “Dana, you’ve always hated me you dog.”
“Listen, sometimes you gotta protect these guys from themselves and that’s what we’re looking into right now. He made a statement that I’ve hated him forever,” White told the outlet. “I don’t hate Mark Hunt at all. I never hated Mark Hunt. He knows that. I was actually really good with Mark Hunt.”
The “protect these guys from themselves” line isn’t exactly new. It’s the same thinking that came about when White was nudging Chuck Liddell towards retirement. Liddell was given a cushy spot on the payroll with the UFC, which dried up when WME|IMG purchased the promotion last year. For Hunt, there’s no such opening to be had.
The UFC had to do something, and really, what else were they supposed to do? One of their most durable heavyweights, beloved by fans, was describing the early warning signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). CTE is pretty much the Freddy Krueger of the combat sports world (not to mention the NFL) — a thing of nightmares. While Hunt would later claim he was misquoted (which has yet to be confirmed one way or the other), the UFC had no choice but to act. Hunt went so far as to threaten the company with another lawsuit, but it would be by not acting that they’d open themselves up to legal liability.
As to Hunt’s claim the Dana White never liked him? Remember, there was a time when Hunt was 0-6 after his UFC debut, and the promotion was more than willing to pay him to go away. Stay home, put his feet up. He chose to keep fighting, and persevered. That won him legions of fans, but it’s worth noting that the UFC could easily have quashed that opportunity to keep fighting.
It didn’t, and he turned things around. Since then, Hunt has headlined or co-headlined UFC events eight times. Not exactly the actions of a company whose President is showing any sort of bias.
Hunt may fight again. Chances are he probably will, though whether it’s with the UFC remains to be seen. He’s still under contract, but this dispute may turn out to be the breaking point in an already fractured relationship. It’s a good time, however, for Hunt to think about what really matters: family and health, or to press on for a few more fights clinging to fading hopes of a late-career title run.