Mark Hunt and James Te Huna fly the flag at UFC 135
The focus for many mixed martial arts fans for UFC 135 will of course be the light heavyweight championship bout between Jon Jones and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson but the card also features two of the premiere Australasian fighters.
In the same way we as Australians have claimed Russel Crowe and Crowded House as our own, we have extended that courtesy to the MMA realm with New Zealand’s Mark Hunt and James Te Huna.
Hunt and Te Huna will take on Ben Rothwell and Ricardo Romero respectively at UFC 135 in do-or-die match-ups.
While both are Kiwis who are making their third appearance under the UFC banner on September 25, the similarities pretty much end there.
The pair undergone very different paths that led them to the promotion.
Hunt made his debut in the sport after winning the prestigious 2001 K-1 kickboxing Grand Prix in Japan.
The victory gave Hunt a high profile in Japan and led to him being signed by the premiere MMA organisation, at the time, PRIDE Fighting Championships.
In his first fight for PRIDE, he was defeated via armbar by Judo gold medallist, Hidehiko Yoshida in the first round.
He rebounded from the loss to rack up five straight wins, including wins over the highly ranked and respected Wanderlei Silva and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
His streak would be snapped by losses to Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko. Then, following the shut-down of PRIDE, he would make it five losses in a row when he was defeated in his three bouts in the DREAM organization.
“I think the lowest moment was every fight I was just losing and I just didn’t know what the hell was going on.” Hunt said in an interview with The Roar.
“I just couldn’t get it right. I didn’t know what it was. It was just a mental block. It didn’t matter who I fought, I would have just lost anyway.
“They could have put me in with a wooden chair and I still would have lost. It was just inside my mind and I had to break the cycle.”
In a strange turn of events however, despite the losing streak, Hunt was picked up by the UFC.
The UFC’s acquisition of PRIDE meant that they contractually owed fights to Hunt.
Hunt’s UFC career did not start well as he was submitted in the first round by UFC newcomer, Sean McCorkle at UFC 119.
He was given another fight and made the most of it as he knocked out Chris Tuchscherer earlier this year at Australia’s UFC 127.
The win not only snapped his six-fight losing streak but earned him another fight in the UFC. His UFC 135 opponent, Ben Rothwell, is a more highly touted opponent than Tuchscherer but Hunt doesn’t believe it’s a sign of him moving into the heavyweight title picture.
“I don’t think I’m sitting anywhere at the moment. I think a few more fights, three or four more fights for me to get into the picture at all.
“I don’t see myself anywhere in the heavyweight division, yet I still feel I’m the best on the planet of course or else I wouldn’t be doing it.”
While the 37-year old Hunt’s career may be winding down, 29-year old Te Huna’s is still on the rise.
Nevertheless, he faces himself in a precarious position at UFC 135 against Ricardo Romero after suffering his first UFC loss to surging prospect, Alexander Gustaffson at UFC 127.
“Me and Romero are both coming off losses,” said Te Huna. “So we’re going to be fighting hard to be keeping our spots in the UFC.”
It’s an unfortunate position for Te Huna to be in as he showed a lot in his UFC debut against Igor Pokrajac at UFC 110, even though the fight did not go according to plan.
“Against Pokrajac we had a plan to stay on the feet but as soon as I walked into the cage the next thing I remember I woke up on my head.
“So that game plan went out the window, and I spent the three rounds trying to put him on his back.”
His ability to adapt to a dire situation with a quality takedown game was something we haven’t come to expect from Australian fighters.
He also used that area of his game effectively against Gustaffson early on at UFC 127 but he eventually succumbed to the Swede later in the first round.
That loss was something Te Huna partially attributes to his father having to be checked into hospital four weeks prior to the bout.
“When I wasn’t at the gym, I was at the hospital so it played on my mind. Then halfway through the fight I didn’t want to be there. It was like I quit and that’s not something I do.”
Regardless, Te Huna will get a chance to redeem himself at UFC 135 in a bout that he hopes will remain on the feet. If it does we may very well get a reminder of the striking skills that he showcased in the Australian Cage Fighting Championships that paved his way to the UFC.
Te Huna claimed the light heavyweight grand prix belt in the organisation with three knockout victories over respected names in Anthony Perosh, Priscus Fogagnolo and Antony Rea.
It’s been a lean time for Australia in the MMA world of late with George Sotiropoulos suffering back-to-back defeats and Kyle Noke going down by painful submission to Ed Herman last month.
While the hotly promoted Jones vs Rampage title fight will very well take up most of the attention come UFC 135, make sure you spare some time for two of our adopted countrymen.