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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on FUEL TV 8

It was a storybook ending for Wanderlei Silva and Mark Hunt as they returned to the site of past glories on Saturday night for UFC on Fuel 8 at the Saitama Super Arena. It was a dozen years ago, in the same arena, when Silva (35-12, 1 no-contest) went from being a regular fighter known for his aggressive style, to being a mainstream sports star in Japan. At the time, Kazushi Sakuraba had become a Japanese national hero for wins over four different Gracie family members, and was the biggest name in the sport in Japan. But Silva overwhelmed Sakuraba in 1:38 in their March 25, 2001, main event. In doing so, he became an instant superstar. This led to a rematch later that year, the first time an MMA event had legitimately sold out the Tokyo Dome. But it had been more than six years since Silva last fought in Japan. It was a period where he had lost six of nine fights. Instead, it was a scene reminiscent of the night when it looked like Tito Ortiz was going to bid farewell to UFC after a series of losses, and he shocked the entire MMA world by beating a heavily-favored Ryan Bader. Silva, in a fight many were speculating would be his last in UFC, got the Ortiz moment. Silva was knocked down three times in a first round by the favored Brian Stann (12-6), that brought back memories of the legendary Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama brawl. But he came back in round two, with a hard right that may have finished Stann on its own. But he insured the deal with a follow-up left hook, and punches on the ground. I’m so proud, said an emotional Silva in the ring. Thanks Dana White, thanks Joe Silva for giving me the wonderful opportunity to fight here in Japan. While Silva was becoming the legend killer in Pride with his first two wins over Sakuraba, that same year Hunt was also becoming a big star in Japan. Hunt first made his name as a kickboxer, winning the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix tournament. In those days, the K-1 tournament was so big that in Japan it was probably the equivalent of a Final Four or a World Series in the U.S. Hunt (9-7), a New Zealand native known a The Super Samoan, a short, stocky, super heavyweight known for knockout power and an iron chin, has remained a celebrity. Even 11 years after his big triumph, Hunt was brought to Japan at the end of the past year for sports celebrities arm wrestling and tug-of-war tournaments, featuring celebrity athletes from a number of sports in Japan. To show his raw power, Hunt won the tug-of-war, beating huge sumos, football players and even 330-pound Bob Sapp. But as an MMA fighter, Hunt has had mixed results. Between 2006 and 2009, he lost five fights in a row. He was under contract to Pride when it folded and UFC had no interest in him. The only reason he got into UFC was due to a lengthy legal battle where the company was forced to honor his Pride contract. Now, one month shy of 39, Hunt has the longest winning streak among the top UFC heavyweights. His knockout win over Stefan Struve (29-6) made four in a row. Both Silva and Hunt were both sizeable underdogs, although stylistically it would have been foolish to believe they didn’t stand a chance because punching power is still the last physical attribute for fighters to go. It was a big night, both good and bad, for several, so let’s look at how the fortunes changed for five: MARK HUNT – With consecutive wins over Chris Tuchscherer, Ben Rothwell, Cheick Kongo and Struve, suddenly Hunt has earned the right to be put in with a top level heavyweight. The very idea something like this would have been possible would have been preposterous when he made his UFC debut, where he was submitted in 1:03 to Sean McCorkle, someone long gone from the UFC. Hunt’s stand up game makes him dangerous for any heavyweight in the game. But his training with the American Top Team over the past year since he last fought has made a major difference. Hunt was always going to be dangerous for anyone standing, but the book on him was he was a turtle on his back. But Saturday, Hunt survived being mounted and pounded in both the first and second rounds, as well as a number of submission attempts. And Struve is top shelf on the ground, with 16 submission wins in his career. If you’ve got a Mark Hunt who can stay out of trouble on the ground, you’ve got someone who can be dangerous for almost any heavyweight on the roster. DIEGO SANCHEZ – Sanchez (26-5) scored a split decision over Takanori Gomi, in a fight he was heavily favored in. But the fight was close enough that the returning stars of Pride trio booked in the top three matches nearly had a clean sweep. Sanchez missed weight by two pounds in his return to the lightweight division. He did not look like himself during the fight. With Stephan Bonnar and Kenny Florian retired, Forrest Griffin near the end of his career, and Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Chris Leben and Rashad Evans having bad performances their last time out, it hits home that we’ve seen the rise to the top and going back down of…

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