Because of the peculiarities involved in Zuffa's purchase of Japan's Pride Fighting Championships organization back in 2007, he could have stayed home and still collected a check, according to UFC president Dana White.
"When we bought Pride, he came as part of the Pride deal," White said at Saturday night's UFC 135 post-fight press conference. "It was back and forth and basically I was just like...we'll just pay you off. We know you're in the Pride deal. And Mark Hunt said 'No, I want to come. I want to fight.'"
At UFC 135 Hunt won his second straight UFC bout, defeating Ben Rothwell via unanimous decision after a grueling three-round battle that saw Hunt batter Rothwell with strikes while also acquitting himself well in the ground game. It's a long way from where most people thought he'd be after his rocky start in the UFC, not that Hunt is eager to discuss how he ended up here.
"It's been a long journey just to get here," said the New Zealander. "I'm still...plugging away at it. It's been hard."
It was especially hard after he injured his arm in a submission loss to Sean McCorkle in his UFC debut. That dropped the kickboxer's MMA record to 5-7, and his future prospects looked grim.
But Hunt bounced back in February with a stunning walk-off knockout of Chris Tuscherer at UFC 127 in Australia, then followed it up with this clear-cut win over a very game Rothwell, who took every power shot Hunt could think of over the course of their 15-minute scrap.
"It was a really hard fight," said Hunt. "Ben Rothwell, he's really tough. I threw a lot of heavy shots at him, real hard shots, but he was still there."
But according to White, what's really impressive is how Hunt has managed to carve out a place for himself in the UFC rather than simply taking the easy money when it was offered to him. Even after White had offered to "pay [Hunt] to stay home," he said, the heavyweight insisted on having his day in the cage.
"Let me tell you what, man, he did it," White said. "The guy's got a ton of heart and I have a lot of respect for him."
Hunt, who's never been known as one of the sport's most verbose fighters, said he didn't "feel like talking about" his decision to turn down the UFC's offer to pay him off, even appearing slightly embarrassed when White brought it up.
But White said he specifically requested that Hunt come to the post-fight press conference because he wanted to highlight the situation and let everyone know how impressed he is with the former K-1 kickboxer.
"I'm glad that he opted to come here and fight and I'm proud that he fought in the UFC," said White. "I asked him to come here tonight. If he won't say it, I will."
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