Two larger-than-life characters seek to carry UFC 200 past all previous cage-fighting pay-per views tonight in Las Vegas.
Both Brock Lesnar and Mark Hunt cut weight to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit. But their big bodies can’t contain their bigger charisma.
The Super Samoan fights as MMA’s Cinderella Man, an over-the-hill fighter with a losing record who somehow found his mojo in his late thirties. So on the trash heap did Hunt once sit that the UFC attempted to buy him out of his contract after the company purchased Pride. The 5-6 fighter opted to — what else? — fight on, surprising fans by going 7-4-1 in his UFC run. The six-year stint that won Hunt a cult following that became a massive mainstream following includes wins over Frank Mir, “Big” Ben Rothwell, and Antonio “Big Foot” Silva.
It’s not merely Hunt picking his career off the canvas. It’s how he deposits opponents on the canvas that captivated fans. With style, panache, and, yes, Marquess of Queensberry sportsmanship, Hunt perfected if not invented the walk-off knockout. Against Mir, Stephan Struve, Roy Nelson, and others the New Zealand-native lets his hands go and then he goes sauntering off before his opponent hits the mat. The crowd goes wild but Hunt remains his stoic self. This, of course, makes fans wilder for him.
Brock Lesnar burst on MMA as bigger than the sport in 2007. He became UFC heavyweight champion in his fourth fight by the end of the next year. Diverticulitis cut short his time in the sport. But, boy, it was fun while it lasted.
Knocking Heath Herring into a somersault by knocking his orbital bone loose in the first round’s first exchange, pounding Frank Mir’s face into hamburger before unleashing a spittle-drenched tirade involving the UFC’s sponsors, his love for Coors Light, and his desire to get on top of his wrestling-diva wife, and dramatically coming back from certain defeat against Shane Carwin to submit him in the second round made UFC pay-per views must-see TV.
Die-hard fans despised his professional-wrestling antics and quick rise without paying dues. But he, more than anyone else, elevated MMA from a niche bloodsport into mainstream appointment viewing with a Fox contract, a Reebok endorsement deal, and buyers looking to unload $4 billion for a company bought for $2 million at the beginning of the millennium.
If Lesnar ushered the UFC into the glitzy Conor McGregor-Ronda Rousey phase the promotion currently enjoys, his fight Saturday evokes the sport’s origins. Mark Hunt-Brock Lesnar represents a striking vs. wrestling matchup. Neither boasts particularly strong skills beyond their bread-and-butter. Complete mixed-martial artists don’t step into the cage in Las Vegas tonight. A tank of a man unleashing his cannons on opponents takes on a monster wrestler with super-human strength on the ground. If the fight stays standing, Mark Hunt wins. If it goes to the ground for good, Brock Lesnar wins. It’s discipline vs. discipline.
Though MMA stalwarts cheer on Hunt and casual fans root on Lesnar, their size, mystique, and strange paths to the top present similarities. Like Hunt, Lesnar seeks to revive a career already receiving its eulogies. Like Lesnar, Hunt brings an electricity to the cage more powerful than that on display on the Vegas strip.
These guys are really big. Their fight is even bigger.