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Opportunity Knocks for Mark Hunt

"Once he realizes he can't dance around or play around with me he's going to be trying to take me down like the rest of them." - Mark Hunt

UFC heavyweight Mark HuntMark Hunt has a big opportunity.  At UFC 144 on Saturday night, he fights Cheick Kongo. France's Kongo has won his last two fights and has long been in the verge of the title picture in the heavyweight division.  In the UFC's Octagon, the Frenchman has a better resume. But Hunt doesn't see it as a step up.

"(Is the fight) Good for my career? I don't look at it like that. I've fought a lot of the best fighters in the world so it's not a step up for me. So, just another fight."

The veteran is blunt about his opponent's skills.

"I know (of) Cheick Kongo -- he's alright, he's not a bad fighter."

It's just another fight for a man who, at 37, has been a professional fighter for over 15 years.  First in kickboxing, where he won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001.  In 2004, he switched to MMA where he's defeated names like Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop. The New Zealand-born Sydneysider Hunt has earned the right to be casual about it all.

Hunt is matter-of-fact about fighting, but don't mistake that for a lack of determination. From mid 2006 to 2010, he did not win a fight, going 0 for 6. Four years of losses and lengthy periods without a fight.  But he didn't let the statistics swallow him, and he now rides a two fight win streak.  Mentally, it's a long way from losing his Octagon debut at the end of 2010 to Sean McCorkle.

"It's good because after losing for so many times I just didn't know what was going wrong; but after changing up so many things and finally getting on a better level mentally and physically it's really helped me a lot. Especially losing to a beginner like McCorkle.  But I put that down to not fighting for a couple of years," said Hunt.  "It always happens when you don't fight for a while you're just rubbish, you don't know what's going on.  And in mixed martial arts by the time you realize it, it's too late."

His last fight was a grueling three round decision win over Ben Rothwell at UFC 135 last September. By the end, both men were exhausted, but he attributes this to Denver's mountain air, not a lack of hard training.

"I was pretty tired, but the altitude really got me a lot," stated Hunt.  "It's hard to realize until you actually go train there or actually fight there. Then you realize how difficult the air is up there if you’re not used to the training or staying there for a while. I wasn't used to it - I had like two weeks there. It was hard work."

It was a chance for the "Super Samoan" Hunt, who's struggled with the submission game in the past, to show off new skills: executing a takedown, taking dominant positions and attempting an armbar on Rothwell.

"It was good. I've been practicing a while for it."

But punches and kicks will always be his bread and butter.  And Hunt doesn't miss a beat when asked who the better striker will be at UFC 144.

"Well, as a striker I'm better than him, of course.  That's the way I look at it."

Which he believes leaves Kongo with one option.

"That's (attempting takedowns) what he's gonna be doing.  Once he realizes he can't dance around or play around with me he's going to be trying to take me down like the rest of them."

While Hunt has trained in Florida with American Top Team in the past, he prepared for this fight in his birthplace: Auckland, New Zealand.  It's not as glamorous a fight camp, but he believes it's for the best.  And he looks as fit as ever.

"The training over here is pretty crazy. I've got some good training back at home (in Australia) but it's hard to find partners around because everyone has to work and not many people fight full time.  I know Jamie (Te Huna) has a lot of guys his weight he's training with and that's pretty good for him," said Hunt.  "For me, everywhere else is too far to go. Miami is pretty far to go to acclimatize and then reacclimatize to Australian time because there's just not enough time.  So I think it was a good move, but we'll see what happens in the fight."

Hunt’s fight will see him return to Japan, where he's fought for much of his career.

"I'm looking forward to fighting in Japan again; it will be great."

It's the place where he won the K-1 Grand Prix in front of some 65,000 fans. And it's where he debuted in the legendary PRIDE ring.

"It's where my career started really.  Apart from being home in Australia.  I got offered my second fight contract in Japan."

Yet on the 25th of February it will be the site of just another fight for Hunt.