Source: USA TODAY
As a New Zealand native and current Sydney resident, Mark Hunt is used to logging thousands of air miles to get to work. He has fought dozens of fights in Japan as a K-1 kickboxer and as a mixed martial artist in the now-defunct PRIDE organization.
But now, as a UFC heavyweight who competes primarily in North America, a travel visa never has played such a pivotal career role.
Two weeks ago, Hunt (9-7 mixed martial arts, 4-1 UFC) twice was stopped at the airport when he attempted to fly from New Zealand to the USA to complete his training camp for a meeting with former champ Junior dos Santos (15-2, 9-1) at UFC 160 on Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (10p.m. ET, pay-per-view).
Giving a play-by-play of his woes on Twitter, he wrote that a 2002 arrest was keeping him from the paper that would green-light his international travel.
The issue first came up in 2006, when Hunt was about to fight 400-pound boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch in PRIDE. Now, with the winner of his fight likely to get a UFC title shot, the timing couldn’t be worse.
When Hunt, 39, first began racking up airline miles to the USA, a title shot would’ve been inconceivable to perhaps everyone but him. He was a 36-year-old MMA journeyman with an iron jaw and 5-6 pro record, and his résumé didn’t exactly scream contender.
But Hunt has an improbable streak of four consecutive wins (three via knockout) after a defeat in his UFC debut, and fans have made plenty of noise about giving the amiable “Super Samoan” his chance. And Hunt is ready to capitalize.
“If I can beat Junior, it should put me into the No.1 spot,” he said.
Sunday, after reassurances from UFC officials, who employed an immigration specialist to tackle the fighter’s visa problem, and speculation about whether popular Roy Nelson would step in for a rematch against dos Santos, Hunt tweeted that his ordeal finally was over. “Thank u for my visa father,” he said.
The question is whether the travel issues will affect his fight. If he’s feeling like he did in a previous trip to the USA, he might be less than 100%.
“I fought in Vegas once before, and I went out there four days out (from) the fight, and that was quite tiring because I was going to sleep at 6 in the morning American time and everyone else was waking up,” he said.
Then again, he is used to adjusting his body to different time zones. And regardless of whether he’s sleepy or not, his fists still work fine.
The incident is a reminder to keep his nose clean. More than ever, he has a lot to win — and lose.
Marrocco also writes for MMAjunkie.com