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Mark Hunt continues to prosper well past the age of prosperity

Zuffa LLC via Getty

The very idea of a fight between Mark Hunt and Josh Barnett is enough to unfurl long involuntary strings of slobber from Brian Stann’s mouth. "You’ve got me drooling over that one," he told his fellow commentator Mike Goldberg at the proposition, just minutes after Hunt became the first man to dispatch Roy Nelson via knockout in the UFC.

If Hunt inspires that kind of reaction in chiseled men of character, imagine what he does to people who are easily awed? People like me, who watched the end sequence at least a dozen times.

That walk-off uppercut that he landed on Nelson’s bearded chin at UFC Fight Night 52 in Japan was all business. He was huffing air, for sure, and had the fight went another round it would have looked like a couple of B.J. Penns running with the boulders underwater, but just before it got to that point Hunt landed the shot he narrowly missed at least twice previously. The uppercut finally connected. Nelson face-planted in Saitama…he just sort of dove through the canvas, like a snorkeler going to check on some coral. It was an unfamiliar sequence to see Nelson go down like that. Hunt knew, though. He slid down Nelson’s back and lifted his arm in victory, and later received a fat check of $50,000 for his efforts.

That’s the way you handle a nine-month layoff, and all the rumors of a horrendous weight cut, and all the errant carbs that go into constructing paranoid tweets.

And that’s how you make a statement in a weight class where statements mean so much right now.

The UFC’s heavyweight division remains as wide open as it is complicated. There isn’t a clear-cut contender in the wings for the winner of the Fabricio Werdum-Cain Velasquez title bout in November. And Hunt did what he needed to to at least enter the conversation. He went to Japan, where he’s still an icon from his days in Pride, and, after playing a game of chin check with one of the more dangerous knockout artists in the world, came away the victor.

The New Zealander’s feel good turnaround story just keeps rolling along.

So where does this leave the Hunt?

If he has his druthers, it’ll be on the Nov. 7 card in Australia, where he trains in New South Wales. Hunt said in the post-fight presser that he wanted to fight on that Fight Pass card in Sydney, which takes place one week before Werdum-Velasquez square off in Mexico City at UFC 181. If he gets his way, that would certainly mesh some heavyweight schedules. And if he did to his next opponent what he did to Nelson, he would make his case timely and emphatic for the winner Werdum-Velasquez. If all went his way, he could make the Dec. 13 fight between fellow contenders Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos more of a future contender’s bout.

It’s an awful lot of projection.

If the UFC has it within its power to do so, it could pair him with the other unlikely restoration project going on in the division right now, Andrei Arlovski. With Arlovski now 2-0 in his return to the UFC, and coming off a loud knockout of former No. 1 contender Antonio Silva in Brazil, that suddenly becomes a big fight. With a win, the former champion Arlovski himself re-emerges as the twilight challenger.

Of course, that depends on Arlovski, who fears he might have a broken wrist in the "Bigfoot" fight and could be out for an extended period. The next best thing would be Ben Rothwell, who himself came crashing back into relevance with his knockout of Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night 50 in Connecticut. Rothwell has said he doesn’t want to fight until January, which becomes a hitch. Then there’s Barnett, who was last seen wearing wrestling shoes in Metamoris. He could accommodate Hunt in Sydney. Problem there is that Barnett is filming movies, and in no particular hurry to fight again.

It’s complicated. The UFC heavyweight picture is always that way. But who knew that the recyclables -- Arlovski, Hunt, Rothwell -- would be the ones holding the paintbrushes?

So what’s next for Hunt, who just keeps on defying logic in a division where everything (and sometimes nothing) is possible?

If the UFC was interested in granting him his wish to fight on Nov. 7 in Australia, a good bet would have been Matt Mitrione, who wanted to challenge himself against a top ten opponent after his KO of Derrick Lewis. But before that could be considered Mitrione was given Gabriel Gonzaga, so unless they want to rearrange some furniture...

Eh, all futile of course. Predicting what’s next in the UFC’s heavyweight division is like predicting that a 36-year old fighter on a six-fight losing streak would be in title contention four years later. Who knows what happens next, but Hunt -- somehow, in 2014, at the age of 40 -- can still make us drool over the possibilities.

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