Who would have believed seven years ago when Mark Hunt was on a five-fight losing streak in Japan and being implored by UFC officials to take a buyout from his contract and vanish from the sport that the New Zealand heavyweight would one day become not just a title contender in the world's biggest MMA promotion but a damn folk hero as well? Yet here he is, two days away from a fight against the last man to challenge for the heavyweight title; the plaintiff in a fucking racketeering case against Dana White and the UFC; and being celebrated by the promotion's other reigning anti-hero/people's champion, Nate Diaz, all at the same time. For those of us of a particular pro-MMA/anti-conformist bent the photo Diaz posted yesterday on his Instagram account of himself holding up "Team Hunt" gear is manna from heaven—a bit of anti-authoritarian sunlight in a rapidly darkening and corporatized age.
One has to assume Diaz's sudden love for Hunt has to do with the news earlier this week that the UFC had filed a motion to dismiss Hunt's charges. Back in January Hunt filed a lawsuit against the UFC on charges of racketeering, fraud, negligence, and breach of contract in relation to Brock Lesnar's failed USADA drug tests at UFC 200. Lesnar defeated Hunt that night by decision but after the fight it was revealed the once-and-present professional wrestler had tested positive for clomiphene, an anti-estrogen agent, in both pre-fight and fight-night drug tests. Before the fight the UFC had waived its own rule requiring fighters returning to the promotion to be in the USADA's testing pool for four moths before competing, and Hunt made it clear he thought Lesnar would be under the influence come fight night. Lesnar's victory was eventually overturned by the Nevada Athletic Commission and changed to a no-contest. The commission also fined Lesnar $250,000 and suspended him for one year. Lesnar, who made millions for his return fight with Hunt, officially retired from MMA last month.
On Tuesday lawyers for the UFC and White filed a motion to dismiss Hunt's suit, calling it an attempt to "stigmatize" the promotion, its president, and Lesnar with "baseless allegations of quasi-criminal conduct in the hopes of reaping a windfall." The motion calls into question Hunt's argument that the loss to Lesnar had cost him numerous "promotional and marketing opportunities," calls Hunt's claims that the UFC and Lesnar had orchestrated a criminal conspiracy to allow Lesnar to compete (and effectively save UFC 200) while taking a banned substance " fatally defective," and points to the fact that Hunt signed a new contract with the UFC in April 2016 after complaining about fighting Antonio Silva and Frank Mir, both of whom failed drugs tests the night they fought Hunt, as proof of the inconsistency and insubstantiality of his legal claims following the Lesnar fight.
I'm sure athletes in the past have competed while in legal conflict with their leagues or promotions but it's hard to imagine any fighter but Mark Hunt climbing into a cage to fight just two months after accusing his bosses of criminal conspiracy and three days after that promotion accused him of making a "gratuitous effort to stigmatize" that promotion and its president "with baseless allegations of quasi-criminal conduct." What will Hunt say to White backstage, or White to Hunt? What do you say to someone who's publicly accused you of being a racketeer? How do you fight for an organization you just said is guilty of criminal fraud? How do you take all that baggage into the cage with you, a space most fighters claim requires perfect clarity of mind to compete in with any success? And to compete against yet another known anti-doping violator like Alistair Overeem, no less? Only Mark Hunt could do it.
Well, maybe Mark Hunt and Nate Diaz. Diaz may have never fought for the UFC while suing them (though he did fight for them while in a ugly and public contract dispute) but it's not hard to imagine. Hunt and Diaz seem cut from the same perpetually dissatisfied cloth: propelled by the lingering, paranoid belief that they're being undervalued and underappreciated and that the world, especially the corporate world, is inherently corrupt and out to get them. It's an attitude that would probably be maddening to tolerate if it weren't 1) probably true; and 2) coming from Mark Hunt and Nate Diaz. Because in the end you can't argue with results. And the UFC knows that. Which is why Diaz never stopped getting fights even when he was tearing into the promotion and Dana White and why Mark Hunt, who has essentially accused the UFC of being an organized-crime organization, is on the main card of a pay-per-view event this weekend. Because Diaz and Hunt always fight with abandon and artistry and madness and genius and daring, and in the end, that's all that matters. Performance in the cage is the great equalizer. And a perfect knockout wipes all slates clean. At least for a little while. At least until the courts have their say and ruin everything.