Kiwi UFC star Mark Hunt says the injured knee that has kept him away from fighting for more than a year is still not completely healed, even though he heads back into the octagon today.
Hunt will fight Dutch heavyweight Stefan Struve in Saitama, Japan. The fight is a replay of one scheduled between the pair last May in Las Vegas, but only a week before they were to clash, the Kiwi tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The injury forced Hunt out of the UFC world for more than nine months, as he recovered from surgery.
The former K-1 world champion revealed to Sunday News that while his knee is feeling "pretty good" now, it is still giving him some grief.
"Coming back here and sparring, I actually injured my leg a couple of times," Hunt, who has a 3-1 record in the UFC, said.
"It's like starting again with the leg. That really sucked for me, because it made me slow down in my training and change things up a lot. It's been hard to try and get the leg right on track - it's been hard to do sparring. I had to cater for the leg. I just say to people, let me into the octagon. If the leg flies off then, I don't care. It doesn't matter. I made it to the ring."
Hunt was off his feet for the best part of three months after his surgery before heading to Auckland where he had an extended training camp with MMA coach Alex Flint in Panmure.
The injury has been the biggest of Hunt's MMA career, dating back to his K-1 days. The Auckland-born 38-year-old admitted at the time that the injury was "crushing" but is now more circumspect about things.
"I've been lucky," he said. "It's been the only injury I've had over 25 or 26 years of fighting - it's been the only major injury I've had. I've been blessed.
"Other people get so many injuries - broken arms, broken legs. It's probably because I drank so much milk when I was younger."
Struve, who has a 9-3 UFC record, will likely have the jump on Hunt in Japan in terms of general "match" fitness.
The 2.10 metre Dutchman, the tallest fighter in the UFC, has had two fights in the last year, beating Lavar Johnson and Stipe Miocic. Yet Hunt is confident he can get under Struve's skin early on.
"My strategy is to knock his face off and kick his teeth in," he said.
"That's all I'm worried about. At the end of the day, as fit as he is, as soon as I hit him, his strength will go.
"I still feel like the best fighter on the planet.
"If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't be doing this still."
- © Fairfax NZ News