Mark Hunt is set to become another big name on the free agent market when his current deal runs out.
Mark Hunt’s rocky relationship with the UFC has been public knowledge for a good long while now. The heavyweight slugger was actually told to stay home when the UFC first bought out Pride. With pay. Now the stuff of legend, Hunt refused and instead chose to fight out his deal.
After a debut loss in the UFC dropped him to 0-6 over six fights spanning July 2006 to September 2010, it looked like Hunt’s goose was cooked. However, that low was followed by one of MMA’s best ever turnarounds. Hunt went on to win his next four fights, a feat that had some calling for a title shot for ‘The Super Samoan.’
That didn’t happen (and he was posterized by a spinning heel kick from Junior dos Santos in his next bout), but Hunt had reached main event level stardom in the UFC. Unfortunately, despite his fan favorite status, it was far from smooth sailing for Mark Hunt. In 2014, the fighter posted vague tweets on social media about being out of a job, that he later blamed on being hungry. He was vocal about performance enhancing drugs in the sport, saying he didn’t care and would fight anyone, then launched a lawsuit in 2016 against the UFC and Brock Lesnar following Lesnar’s UFC 200 drug test failure. Although Lesnar’s win over Hunt was overturned to a No Contest, Hunt was looking for financial compensation. That suit is ongoing.
Then there was the much publicized case of Hunt’s removal from UFC Sydney earlier this year. Long story short, Hunt made comments in a Player’s Voice article attributed to him indicating that he was suffering from symptoms of CTE. Hunt was pulled from his fight with Marcin Tybura, and replaced by rival Fabricio Werdum. Hunt would argue the UFC was punishing him for his lawsuit, and that UFC President Dana White had it out for him. White would answer with a public letter denying it; eventually, additional medical testing saw Hunt cleared to return. He’s now set to face Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221 in February.
Hunt should be a simple fighter to describe: he’s big, thick, and hits like a truck. Yet outside the cage, there’s a complexity to his UFC career absent from most other heavyweights in the promotion. That’s no doubt why Hunt has announced that his current UFC contract will be his last — but that he intends to continue fighting elsewhere.
Hunt made the comments to Submission Radio earlier this week.
“That will be the end of my career in the UFC. I have two fights left and that’s it. You probably know the path I’ve had with the UFC, but you know, it’s business” Hunt said. “I haven’t done nothing wrong, I just don’t like to be treated like s**t – even if I’m an employee or whatever and I speak my mind about it and, you know, I’ll go from there. So like I said, three fights left and I’ll move on.” (via MMA Fighting).
Hunt went on to say that he was looking for “global” fights, specifically mentioning Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
So where might that leave Hunt? Still under contract to the UFC, promotions aren’t able to approach the fighter, but there are some obvious destinations available to him.
RIZIN Fighting Federation
Launched in 2015 by former Pride head Noboyuki Sakakibara, Japan’s RIZIN FF is essentially Pride 2.0. With Hunt’s previous relationship to Pride, and overall history in Japan, RIZIN is a likely destination for the heavyweight once his days in the UFC are up. It’s more than just “oh, he used to fight in Pride” however.
RIZIN has proven to be a destination older heavyweights can succeed in. Look no further than Mirko Cro-Cop’s return in the promotion, which saw him win the RIZIN Open Weight Grand Prix 2016. RIZIN might lack depth, but it’s not afraid to book freakshow fights, and put older names on the marquee.
RIZIN is yet to step outside Japanese territory, but with Hunt being comfortable in Japan, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Over the past two years, Viacom-backed Bellator has been the biggest player in a rejuvenated free agent landscape in MMA. Picking up names like Fedor, Mir, Nelson, Mitrone, Bader, McDonald, Letourneau and others, it’s clear they’re willing to spend the cash for the right fighter. Hunt would likely come with a bigger price tag than most of the others, but even in his mid-40s, it could be worth it.
Bellator, like RIZIN, have also shown a willingness to rely on older names to boost cards. For reference, see Fedor, Shamrock, Gracie, and the late Kimbo Slice.
Bellator have been making moves on the international stage, hosting events in Italy, the U.K., and Israel. That said, they’ve yet to make the trip down under, but with Hunt atop a card, they could.
Along with RIZIN, Bellator is one of the more likely destinations for Hunt following the end of his UFC deal.
There’s really only a limited number of names that have the talent, money, and organizational reach to pick up a name like Mark Hunt. Fight Nights Global, KSW, and ACB have all made strides over the past year. Yet it’s unlikely any will have the ability to secure Hunt’s services. ONE Championship, however, could be a contender — albeit a long shot.
ONE certainly has the money, and considerable reach in Asia, though thus far it hasn’t made headway in Japan. It hasn’t broken into Australia either, but with a number of fighters from the country on their roster, they certainly could put on a show there.
The biggest problem is the lack of competition for Hunt in ONE. ONE’s heavyweight division is underdeveloped, to say the least.
No matter where things end up, one thing is certain. In late 2018/early 2019, Hunt, who by then will be roughly 45, will be the biggest free agent on the market. And a welcome addition to any roster, even if he only competes for another year or two.