Western Sydney's reputation for churning out some of the toughest sportsmen and women on planet earth will continue at UFC 209 in Las Vegas on Sunday (AESTD, details below) when Mark Hunt and Tyson Pedro walk out for two of the biggest bouts in their careers.
The poorer western suburbs of Australia's most populous city, Sydney, have long held a reputation for big, tough, mean sports stars, many of whom are Polynesian or Melanesian due to the large working-class Tongan, Samoan, Maori and Fijian populations that call the area home. A quick scan of the football codes - rugby league and rugby union - reveals literally dozens of Islanders from the area at the top, among them Jarryd Hayne (Gold Coast Titans via Minto), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Wallabies via Granville), Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks via Blacktown ) and Israel Folau (Wallabies via Minto), just to name a fraction.
Mark Hunt, who is one of the UFC's great cult-characters will fight Alastair Overeem in UFC 209 on Sunday, having relocated to Western Sydney as a 23 year old following a traumatic youth spent in New Zealand. As a child, Hunt was horrifically beaten before later graduating to car theft and street brawling on the infamously mean streets of South Auckland. He served multiple jail sentences before finding god and a wife and turning his life around in Sydney's west. To this day he cites several local rugby league and union stars as major sources of inspiration, including Cronulla Sharks captain, Paul Gallen and fellow west Sydney product, Israel Folau.
His tough upbringing and rude knock-out-and-walk-away-style, meanwhile, has earned him cult status in the UFC not to mention acclaim from some of America's biggest celebrities, including Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.
"Mark Hunt's f-----g hardcore background is really, really impressive and provides another perspective when he steps into the octagon," says The Rock, who is also Samoan.
In the lead up to his bout with the British-born, Dutch fighter, Alastair Overeem, the 42-year-old Hunt has had some seriously terse words for both the UFC and his opponent.
"The only thing I remember about Overeem then is that he was using steroids then and he's still using steroids. The guy's a filthy cheater and he shouldn't be up at this level. In society, you do wrong, you go to jail. But right now [in UFC] it pays to cheat," said Hunt, who is currently suing the UFC over his last fight, which he lost to Brock Lesnar, before Lesnar failed a drug test and the bout was declared a no-contest.
"I'm looking forward to fighting again this weekend. To be honest, for me it's not weird at all. I feel like I've been put in as the guy who's done something wrong ... but I don't think I should be treated wrongly, I've done nothing wrong. The only person who did wrong was the steroid-using cheat [Lesnar]."
"I don't feel weird about being here – I'm one of the best fighters in the world, I don't feel I should be cheated out of my lifestyle, or my family's lifestyle. I haven't cheated to get here, I've earned it with my blood and sweat. I don't give a s---. I get beaten up for a living, you think I care about that? It makes no difference to me," he said.
West Sydney's other man in UFC 209 is light-heavyweight Tyson Pedro (5-0), another Samoan, and also the son of original Australian MMA fighter, John Pedro. He takes on Scotsman, Paul 'Bearjew' Craig (9-0) and has pledged to finish the fight in the first round.
"I can't wait to put on a show. There's going to be a lot of eyes watching ... I'll try to finish it in the first round," he said.
He is fresh off an impressive defeat of American southpaw power-puncher, Khalil Rountree, in UFC 101 in Melbourne, a fight he took on just two weeks notice after injuries forced a reshuffle of the card. He confesses to being a little underdone for that fight despite taking the win in the first round. He has never been better prepared for Sunday's fight, however, having spent the lead-up training at the world famous Jackson-Wink Gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, home to the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Holly Holm and BJ Penn in the past, among others.
"The biggest difference has been the coaching and the little things... A lot of the transitions and small movements and increasing power," he told Vice Sports from Jackson-Wink.
The fight will be telecast at selected venues in Australia from 1 pm Sunday (AESTD), March 5th.