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The big Te Huna

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While the Panthers are doing it tough in the NRL, one local sporting identity is bringing joy to the people of Penrith. James Te Huna is one of the most feared fighters in the UFC light-heavyweight division.

His all-action style has taken him from Elite Fight Gym in ‘Penny’ to notoriety across the mixed martial arts world. Te Huna might be a good bloke, but he is a nasty fighter. His cage demeanour is intense. Brutal. Only two of his 20 fights have gone the distance. His signature move used to be a double-leg scoop, raising his opponent high then smashing him to the floor. If you think Roger Federer has a lot of slams, then you haven’t seen JTH in action.

Nowadays, he is more likely to terminate action with a booming two-fisted combination. “I like using my hands and that’s my favourite way to get a victory,” Te Huna tells BigPond Sport. “I work with some really good boxing trainers and training partners, and fans love to see those explosive finishes.”

Two things stamp Te Huna as an excitement machine: his ability to dish out pain, and his ability to cop it. In terms of the former, his first three victories were all via rear naked chokes, but since that time he has become a knockout specialist, often via relentless ground and pound.

In the latter aspect, he has withstood an appalling string of injuries en route to making his mark on the world stage. Early in his career he suffered badly from shoulder dislocations. In a famous bout against Takahiro Oba in 2006 he dislocated his right shoulder, had it put back in place by his cornerman, then pounded out a TKO victory. In his next fight he was grappling Hector Lombard and dislocated his left shoulder.

In his big time debut in Sydney at UFC110 he defeated Igor Pokrajac by referee stoppage in the third round, continuing to work like a combine harvester despite having his left arm broken by a kick in the first few minutes.

After punching out Ricardo Romero at UFC135 last year, Te Huna revealed he needed a quick finish because a dislocated finger on one hand had left him unable to make a fist and he had torn the ligament from the thumb of the other hand. He iced Romero in 47 seconds, then iced his hands for a couple of months.

Te Huna’s most recent UFC showing was against Joey Beltran, an opponent who, according to legend, is as tough as goat’s knees. Te Huna went within a whisker of knocking Beltran out in the first round, but in the process broke both his left hand and left foot on the American’s hard skull. The Aussie smashed his way to a three-round points victory and Fight of the Night honours.

The mental toughness Te Huna possesses to keep throwing despite the pain of broken bones is hard to compute.

“I broke the second metacarpal on the index finger of my left hand two minutes in, plus I had a hairline fracture of the left foot,” he says. “I had a cast on the foot for a while after the fight but I’m getting around okay now. Beltran was really tough. He had the left side of his body covered really well all fight, so there was nowhere I could hit him with my right. He was open for my left hand and left leg kicks all night, so I just had to keep throwing them.”

(At this point we should be fair and admit that claiming Te Huna as an Aussie puts him in the same class as Phar Lap, Russell Crowe and the pavlova. He is one of those New Zealand exports we call Australian as soon as they become successful.)

Te Huna says he loves both countries, and is very proud to be the first Maori to make it to the big show that is UFC. He explains that ‘te huna’ in Maori means ‘the hiding’. Asked if this could refer to the hidings he administers to opponents, he chuckles that, “It might be more about all the hidings I got as a kid.”

He is a small light-heavyweight, but insists he is comfortable in that weight class. His speed and ferocity make up for a lack of size. He is, of course, in the division ruled by Jon Jones, one of the best MMA fighters to walk the planet. However, it is a division clogged with a lot of legendary fighters who are close to their ring expiry dates – men like Dan Henderson (41), Renato Sobral (37), Antonio Nogueira (36), Stephan Bonnar (35), 34-year-olds Rampage Jackson, Brandon Vera and Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin (33), and Rashad Evans (32).

Te Huna is 30, but has missed a lot of training time due to injury – the upside of which is that he has fewer ‘miles on the clock’ than some of those household names. At this point in his career, he might be favoured against most of those fighters, with the exception of Jones and Evans. He is the same age as ‘Shogun’ Rua, who would make a great opponent, and he is eager to avenge his loss to gifted young Swede Alexander Gustafsson.

“The one I would love to fight is Forrest Griffin,” he says. “He brings it every time, and so do I.”

He would also like a crack at Jones at some point, but concedes he is still down in the pecking order. He says Machida’s showing against Ryan Bader was “the fastest I’ve seen a light-heavy in a long time” but is unsure if that will be enough against Bones when they meet with the strap on the line (assuming Jones defeats Henderson on 1 September).

There are many tasty fights on the horizon if Te Huna can maintain his hot streak. Fans love a fighter with a mean streak who enters the octagon intent on nothing but a fast finish. Now that he is a UFC regular, will we still get to see him fighting in Australia? “I’d love to fight here again,” he says. “I hear rumours about a show up in Brisbane. Until then I’m just taking it step by step, and whoever they match me up with, I’m going to work on that and up my game and try and get better.”

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.

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