The mixed martial arts world was shocked earlier last month when reports emerged that WWE superstar and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar was readying for a blockbuster return to the cage on July 9 at UFC 200. The news was so unexpected that even the man ultimately selected to fight Lesnar, UFC heavyweight slugger Mark Hunt, was caught off guard, despite being told months ago to stay prepared for UFC 200 just in case something crazy happened.
"I heard about it the same time as everybody else did, pretty much," Hunt explained recently on The MMA Hour. "... I actually guessed it was probably Brock a long time ago. I guessed it was him, but I was just told to stay ready for UFC 200. I didn't realize it was Brock Lesnar until someone actually mentioned it, and I was like, oh wow. But I pretty much found out it was confirmed at the same time as everyone else did."
The UFC made the announcement of Lesnar's return official on June 4 at UFC 199. Hunt was announced as Lesnar's opponent two days later, giving the "Super Samoan" roughly four weeks to prepare before the International Fight Week festivities overtake Las Vegas, culminating in a UFC 200 show that could very well be among the biggest in the promotion's history.
Luckily, that condensed timetable is just fine for an old-school fighter like Hunt, who arrived in Las Vegas in mid-June to begin preparations for his big night.
"I think [Lesnar] has been training a lot longer than people seem to presume he's been training," Hunt said. "He probably knew a long time ago about this match.
"I've got a good couple weeks to get into it and then it's fight week, so my guys are just coming into town now and looking forward to getting their work done."
Lesnar, 38, has been away from MMA since exiting the sport in late-2011 following back-to-back losses to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, however the end of his fighting career never sat well with the former UFC champion. His final few years in the Octagon were marred by a string of battles with diverticulitis, and Lesnar's lingering dissatisfaction with those performances led him to nearly re-sign with the UFC in 2015, before ultimately deciding to re-up with WWE.
But now Lesnar is back for a one-off at UFC 200, and the opponent for his comeback fight is not an easy one.
Even at age 42, Hunt remains one of the hardest punchers in the entire heavyweight division. That could spell trouble for a fighter like Lesnar, who has historically had a reputation -- fairly or unfairly -- as someone who comes unraveled once hit.
"I don't know, to be honest. I don't know what the deal is with that. I mean, if you don't like to be hit, you're in the wrong sport," Hunt said, laughing.
"He's had four years off since his (last) fight, so I'm just looking forward to the match-up. It's going to be a great fight and I'm not looking past Brock. He's going to be a tough fight. He's probably been training for ages. But, I mean, getting hit in the face and everywhere, the body, is part of what we're used to. He should get used to it because I'm going to try to do a lot of that in the fight."
Once the fight was official, Hunt made minor headlines when he criticized USADA for its decision to waive the four-month testing window for Lesnar required of retired fighters who choose to re-enter the UFC. Hunt stood by his belief in a level playing field on The MMA Hour, but backed away from some of his other comments, admitting that he mistakenly believed USADA's decision meant that Lesnar would be exempt from testing until after UFC 200, which is not the case.
"He's getting tested now, so I think that's the main thing," Hunt said. "In the end, I think everyone should be treated fairly. If you're getting tested, everyone should be tested. But like you probably said, he wasn't part of us when USADA came. But I still think he should be tested. I mean, he's probably being tested now, but I think everyone should have the same playing field."
As for how things will play out on fight night, Hunt said his guess is as good as anyone's. He remains the far superior striker to Lesnar, while Lesnar's bread and butter has always been a ferocious wrestling attack, so Hunt admits the stylistic pairing between the two could lead to any number of outcomes.
"I don't know, to be honest," Hunt said. "I mean, I'm hoping he comes in like a crazy man and then I put him to sleep. That's basically what I hope is going to happen. But I don't think he's that stupid. I think he's going to be a bit smarter and test the waters first, but we'll see what happens on the night."