July, 2010. Mark Hunt knew he had a fight coming up in two months, and he also knew he needed to be in the kind of environment where he would not only be able to shed 25 pounds to make the heavyweight limit, but to get ready for what may be his last run at a heavyweight title in mixed martial arts.
Enter former UFC heavyweight title challenger Jeff Monson.
“A friend of mine is a friend of Jeff Monson and I met Jeff and cornered for him when he fought in Australia,” said Hunt of Monson’s trip ‘down under’ to face Bira Lima. “The guy traveled 20 hours and his back was screwed up and he still fought and he won,” said Hunt in amazement. “That’s not easy, especially to do that and then win. And I had a good vibe with Jeff, and I thought he was a real nice person.”
Next scene, Hunt is on that same 20 hour flight, to train with Monson and the gang of stalwarts at the American Top Team gym in South Florida.
“There’s a lot of good fighters that train here, and in Australia I’m not hanging around too many pro fighters,” said Hunt. “But over here there’s a lot of top level guys here, so it’s a good environment to train in.”
And if you’re wondering, the weight is coming off.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all to be honest,” said Hunt of his drop to 265 for his Saturday bout against Sean McCorkle on the preliminary portion of the UFC 119 card in Indianapolis. “I’m 5-10, I’m not really a tall guy, and I just needed to change a few things like my diet. I’ve always trained pretty well but the diet was the thing that brought me down at times. So I changed all those things.”
Okay, okay. About this time, if you’re not a diehard mixed martial arts or kickboxing fan, you might be wondering who Mark Hunt is and why should you care.
Well, for starters, Hunt comes to the UFC as a K-1 kickboxing star who won the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix Championship and owns wins over Rony Sefo, Stefan Leko, Jerome LeBanner, Mike Bernardo, and Gary Goodridge in K-1 bouts. He also faced Mirko Cro Cop, Ernesto Hoost, and Semmy Schilt in K-1 before making the jump to mixed martial arts in 2004.
That’s where things started to get rough for the New Zealand native, but there’s an asterisk to his 5-6 MMA record, and it points directly to the fact that despite a losing record, that slate was built against a killer lineup that includes the likes of Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Alistair Overeem, and Melvin Manhoef. In other words, he wasn’t been fed any cupcakes. Yet tell him that he’s one of those fighters who really means it when he says he’ll fight anyone, he shrugs off such praise.
“That’s just what fighters do,” said Hunt, who fought eight of his 11 MMA bouts in Japan’s PRIDE organization. “I’ve been doing that my whole life from thousand seat arenas into 30-40,000 seat arenas. It’s mind blowing, but that’s what a fighter does to get ahead. You don’t get many opportunities in this lifetime, so whenever they come along, you just can’t push them aside.”
He does admit though that not everybody thinks the way he does.
“It’s hard for some fighters coming up, and they might say ‘aw, I’m not ready for this,’ but at the end of the day, we’re never gonna be ready,” he laughs. “But when I’m in there, I’m in there a hundred percent and however it goes, it goes. I’m a fighter, and when the opportunity comes for me to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime, I’ll do it.”
So over a year removed from his last bout, a May 2009 submission loss to Gegard Mousasi, Hunt got the call from the UFC, and he stepped up to the plate, well aware that at 36, this might be his final big opportunity to add an MMA title to his K-1 crown from nearly a decade ago.
“I was given the opportunity to have one more shot and I went back,” he said. “Otherwise I would have been through with fighting. I would have looked back when I’m like 40 years old and said ‘those were the good ol’ days.’ (Laughs) But this is an opportunity to fight on the big stage again and I’m going to try to make something happen and become world champion.”
First he must defeat the 6 foot 7 McCorkle, who despite being undefeated, has not come close to matching the level of competition Hunt has, and “The Super Samoan” knows it.
“He’s a big guy, but this is his first fight on the big stage and I’ve been fighting for over ten years at the top level,” said Hunt of his opponent. And should he emerge victorious, there is no shortage of hungry prospects contenders who would love to have the name of Mark Hunt on their resume. But that’s just the way he likes it.
“It’s a good division,” he muses. “You’ve got a lot of tough young guys there.”
“That’s why I’m here.”