Mark Hunt (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Heavyweight Conundrum: What’s Next After Mark Hunt’s Big Win?

Last weekend, those of you who had the resolve to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning in the United States (or the actual morning, if you live on the East Coast) were treated to a thrilling knockout from the “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt. Hunt emerged victorious over perennial almost-in-the-mix heavyweight Roy “Big Country” Nelson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 52 at the famed Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

Hunt landed an uppercut in the second round that resulted in a Nelson faceplant on the Octagon canvas, and became only the second fighter to ever knock out The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner. The only other fighter to do so was Andrei Arlovski in EliteXC back in 2008. Hunt accomplished what even former champ and noted knockout artist Junior dos Santos couldn’t over the course of three rounds. This was a much-needed comeback win for the 40-year-old Hunt after he had gone winless in his last two fights, the most recent being a majority draw against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva after a barnburner of a fight (after which Silva failed a post-fight drug test), preceded by a devastating wheel kick knockout loss to the aforementioned dos Santos.

Prior to this fight with Hunt, Nelson was coming off a knockout win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, effectively closing the book on the Brazilian’s storied career. Prior to that, however, Nelson dropped consecutive one-sided decisions to Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic. Now that Nelson is 1-3 in his last four fights, it’s safe to say that he should temper any aspirations of residing in the upper echelon of this weight class, and he will most likely end up being relegated to gatekeeper status. It’s not just the losses he has on his UFC record, but how he lost those fights. Fabricio Werdum made a joke of him while displaying his technically superior striking, similar to what he did to Travis Browne more recently. Frank Mir had what it took to be the clearly better striker in their fight. Junior dos Santos brutally battered Nelson from horn to horn. When Nelson loses via decision in the UFC, he makes the judges’ jobs incredibly easy.


Now that UFC Fight Night 52 is in the books, as it were—even though I don’t believe such physical books even exist in this day and age—let’s take a look at what the future holds for each fighter.

Per the official UFC Rankings, Hunt has now broken into the top five of the heavyweight division, landing in the fifth spot. Every single fighter ahead of him in the rankings already has a fight lined up. No. 6-ranked Josh Barnett is coming off a loss, No. 7-ranked Andrei Arlovski just put on a clinic against Bigfoot and No. 10-ranked Ben Rothwell just knocked out one-time almost-top contender Alistair Overeem. If Hunt did want to sign on for another fight right away, his options boil down to Arlovski or Rothwell.

Rothwell and Hunt have fought once before, in the Mile High City of Denver, and it was terrible. The altitude was most likely responsible for the embarrassing lack of cardio displayed by both fighters, and it is not a fight I would recommend anyone to watch. A rematch in a city that isn’t as high up could be interesting.

The other option, and one that I really hope the UFC doesn’t take, is a match-up with Arlovski. Stylistically, it would probably be a squash match, and no one who knows about Arlovski can seriously believe he could make it through Hunt’s vicious blows. Arlovski is facing a potential extended layoff after his most recent performance, though, so this fight might not even be a possibility within the next six months.

The only other logical fight for Hunt could be the winner of the upcoming fight between Travis Browne and Brendan Schaub.

As for Nelson, the loser of the Browne/Schaub fight could make sense, or maybe Bigfoot, depending on how long it will take for him to recover from his surgery to remove a cyst from his pituitary gland. If Overeem were to win his fight against Stefan Struve, it’s not difficult to imagine the UFC booking Nelson against Overeem as well. The worst thing the UFC can do with Nelson at this point in his career would be to put him up against a rising potential contender, because he could easily knock out someone who would otherwise be well on their way to a title shot, even though Nelson wouldn’t be able to do much with said win anyways. Perhaps putting Nelson up against Barnett would be a smart way to go for all parties involved.

It is a very weird time for the UFC’s heavyweight division, with nothing much in the way of young up-and-coming talent, aside from Travis Browne, and most of the top fighters having tainted records in one way or another, from dos Santos’s two lopsided losses to the champ, to Browne’s embarrassing loss to Werdum, Miocic’s TKO loss to Struve, Rothwell’s spoiling of Overeem (along with his inconsistent record) and Barnett’s embarrassing loss to Browne. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is going to have his work cut out for him in 2015 to get this division back on track.