MONTREAL -- When the UFC acquired PRIDE's assets in 2007, the promotion's power brokers were ready to cast Mark Hunt aside. At the time, the New Zealander was 35 years old and in the midst of a five-fight losing streak, and the belief of many was that his best days were far behind him. But Hunt refused to take the payout the UFC offered him to go away, insisting he wanted to earn his money by competing.
From that rocky start, Hunt has built up momentum, and after four straight wins including three knockouts, he finds himself one step away from MMA's most unlikely storyline. When he faces Junior dos Santos at UFC 160, he could be fighting for the right to challenge for the heavyweight championship.
According to UFC president Dana White, that's a real possibility.
"If he knocks Junior dos Santos out, how is this guy not next in line?" White said following the UFC 158 press conference. "It’d be crazy to think that he couldn’t [be]."
Asked if that meant it was a No. 1 contender's fight, he agreed.
"I would have to say yes," he said.
Of course, other fighters have been promised title shots with wins, only to have the opportunity pulled away for various reasons. Just look to Saturday night's card and Johny Hendricks for proof.
But for Hunt, who was viewed as essentially worthless at the time of the acquisition of his contract, it's a particularly compelling possibility. White said that prior to agreeing to the dos Santos fight, Hunt aired out a list of grievances dating back to his early days with the promotion. White listened and corrected the issues, and is now offering him the biggest opportunity he's been given since he faced Fedor Emelianenko for the PRIDE title back in 2006.
"I understand that," White said of Hunt's issues. "I said I’ll fix the things that have made you feel this way. You’re right, and I understand where you’re coming from and I’m sorry this happened to you. We do respect you, and I think you’re one of the greatest stories in sports right now, to be honest with you."