It's almost cliche at this point, but the story is unavoidable: sometimes in the fight game, friends have to fight friends and training partners have to fight training partners.
That rule holds up for UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt. The Kiwi is scheduled to face Antonio Silva in the main event of UFC Fight Night 33 on December 7th. Hunt and Silva are both members of American Top Team (ATT) and while they don't train together currently, they were close enough for Hunt to try to decline the bout when UFC brass first proposed it.
"I declined the fight," Hunt told Ariel Helwani on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour. "I wanted a different opponent. I didn't want to fight the fight because he's an ATT member.
"Not only that," Hunt elaborated, "the same thing happened with Cheick Kongo. We worked together before. Like I said before, though, I'm an employee of the company. It's just what we do for work. Business aside, we'll still be friends, say hi, this and that. That's the way it is."
Part of the reason Hunt was able to ultimately accept the bout aside from business considerations is the distance between he Bigfoot, both figuratively and literally. Hunt has conducted most of his recent camps in his native New Zealand. As the PRIDE veteran explains, he's mostly at peace with things because of how long it's been since they shared sparring time together.
"It was a while ago. I've had my last four camps in New Zealand. It was a while ago," Hunt recalled.
As for the sessions themselves, did Hunt feel he was clearly the superior fighter? Not really. At least, he's not really sure. He says he doesn't look at past sparring time as 'winning' or 'losing', but just trying to get better.
"The thing about that," Hunt notes, "when I was working with Bigfoot, I was training for Stefan Struve in Japan in the states, in Vegas, and because of Bigfoot I found out how bad my leg was. It was My PCL. He was kicking it. That's how I realized. It was good. Then I had to pull out of that fight a week out, which is really disgusting."
Hunt notes it was training with Bigfoot that compelled him to get checked up by a doctor who basically told him he only had three working ligaments in his knee.
"I don't think it was getting the better of who, just us training. That's all it is. I don't look at it as anything other than trying to better myself. You're there trying to better the other guy. Get a different level of fitness, different level of learning. It's never a competition for me against the other person. Just trying to make myself a little better."
Hunt is also careful to not criticize Bigfoot for his most recent loss, a brutal stoppage at the hands of Cain Velasquez in May. "It's the fight game and everyone loses," Hunt observed. "You win some, you lose some.You just try to get back up on the horse."
That's precisely what Hunt himself is trying to do. He, too, is coming off of a loss, having most recently been stopped by strikes at the hands (and feet) of Junior dos Santos in May as well.
Hunt isn't exactly happy about having to face off against someone he shared training time with and who also waves the ATT flag, but at 39 years of age and headlining a card in Australia against a top-ranked opponent, he's delighted he gets his chance to put himself back in title contention talk.
"The thing about it is, it's a real blessing," Hunt said. "I'm thankful to the UFC for actually giving me this opportunity especially coming off of getting topped up by JDS in Vegas. I really thankful Dana and them gave me this opportunity.
"Again, it's a big step for me. Bigfoot's number four in the world. I'm not even in the top 10, I don't think. I'm blessed. I'm thankful UFC has given me this opportunity to do battle again and get back in the upper echelon."
"Yeah, I'm blessed," Hunt observed. "I feel great."