Heavyweight contender Mark Hunt had an impish grin on his face when asked about the news of the last 24 hours, which saw him go from the co-main event at UFC 200 to the headlining spot on the biggest show in the promotion’s history.
“What news?” queried “The Super Samoan” before breaking out into the laugh that – along with his one punch knockout power – has made him a fan favorite everywhere from his home in Australia to the strip in Las Vegas, where he will ply his trade against former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
During the UFC 200 Open Workouts on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena, both of the new headliners expressed sympathy for light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who saw his main event rematch with Jon Jones scrapped when Jones was flagged for a potential anti-doping violation on Wednesday night.
But as Lesnar put it in his own succinct fashion, “The show must go on.”
And so it will on Saturday night with two of the most intriguing heavyweights on the planet in the top spot on the marquee.
Hunt is a knockout artist of the highest order, and as he put on his sweats and plastics to work off “a few more kilos” before Friday’s weigh-in, fans screamed for another walk-off knockout for the 42-year-old Sydney resident. He has won two in a row, halting “Bigfoot” Silva and Frank Mir.
There is no secret to his game plan on fight night, and while Hunt respects his opponent, he sees no other result than a win this weekend.
“He’s a big guy, I respect what he’s done for the sport,” Hunt said of Lesnar. “But this is real fighting. I look forward to dancing with him on Saturday.”
The 38-year-old Lesnar, who is returning to the Octagon for the first time since a loss to Alistair Overeem in December 2011, opted out of a workout for the fans and media. Instead, the WWE superstar took off his backpack, grabbed a microphone and held court for a few minutes, deftly dodging questions about his contractual obligations with the WWE and his future in MMA with a smile, and generally controlling the stage like he once did the Octagon.
Can he do it again, nearly five years later? Stay tuned, said the big man.
“I woke up one day and it just felt right,” he said of his decision to return. “I’m gonna leave it all out there.”
No one would have thought that entering 2016 that this would be the matchup to headline UFC 200, but through many wild and twisting turns, it is. And who is more appropriate to lead the charge than the man who headlined UFC 100 in 2009?
“I’m here people,” Lesnar bellowed. “It’s happening.”