By CagePotato Contributor Shawn Smith
For over a decade Mark Hunt has been a polarizing figure in the world of mixed martial arts. At 5 foot 10 and 260 lbs, he’s not your average heavyweight, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting on many exciting performances during his career. His hefty build and nonchalant demeanor are misleading. Rest assured though, Hunt is a dangerous fighter who wholeheartedly loves the fight game.
Exploding onto the K-1 scene in 2001 Hunt defeated Jerome Le Banner, Stefan Leko, and Francisco Filho en route to becoming the promotion’s World Grand Prix champion that year. A short time later, he decided to try his hand[s] at mixed martial arts. Following a submission loss to Hidehiko Yoshida in his MMA debut, Hunt rattled off five victories in a row against the likes of PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva, fearsome Croatian striker Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Japanese MMA pioneer Tsuyoshi Kohsaka.
These days “The Super Samoan” calls the UFC home. After falling on hard times in the last days of PRIDE and early days of DREAM, Hunt, who dropped his first UFC bout to Sean McCorkle, has turned things around by putting together two victories in a row inside the Octagon against a pair of formidable opponents in Chris Tuchscherer and “Big” Ben Rothwell.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with the seasoned veteran about his past present and future in the sport.
Here’s what he had to say:
You’re coming off of a decision victory over the durable Ben Rothwell. What were your thoughts on your performance in that bout?
It was good to get the win, especially fighting at high altitude. It was pretty difficult. [It was] definitely good to get the win.
It was recently announced that you will be returning to Japan for the first time since May of 2009 to take on French striker Cheick Kongo. What are were your thoughts when you heard about the match-up?
I’ve trained with the Wolfslair team before. It’s just the way things are. I’m supposed to be fighting, so that’s who I’m fighting. That’s the way I looked at it; business is business.
From your time training together, would you consider Cheick Kongo a friend?
Well, he did help me with my training with the Wolfslair team, but I think it’s just the way things are. Like I said, business is business.
How do you feel you match up with Cheick?
We’re both strikers and I think it will be a good fight.
Is it safe to say this one will be staying on the feet?
I don’t mind if it goes to the ground. If it goes to the ground it goes to the ground. [It] doesn’t bother me. It can go wherever it wants. It just depends on the night.
If it were up to you would it stay on the feet?
I’ll take it wherever I want to take it. If I want to go to the ground, I’ll go to the ground.
You’ve competed in Japan most of your career. What is it like to compete in front of the Japanese audience?
It’s great. The Japanese really dig fighting and I love fighting in front of the Japanese fans. It’s been a while since I fought in Japan, but I’m looking forward to going back and fighting there.
How would you compare it with the North American audience?
The Americans are vocal, I had to get used to that. I think everyone just has to warm up to the fighters. The Japanese fans are much more subdued until they see something happen, and it doesn’t really take much to make the Americans fans go crazy. Someone gets in there and starts getting beat up and they go crazy (laughs).
Do you have a preference?
It doesn’t matter; I love fighting.
After five straight losses, were you surprised to get signed by the UFC?
Not really. I’m a pretty talented person, that’s why I got signed by the UFC.
How were you able to mentally overcome a string of losses like that?
It was pretty hard, you know what I mean? I didn’t know what it was. I tried different trainers, went and trained at a different camp, tried to learn how to train properly and I still lost. I think training back here in Australia – training in my own back yard, sort of gave me the edge to get back on the winning track. I think that’s probably what it was. I have no idea what it was but it suddenly made me try and start winning, so it was good. Whatever it was, keep staying that way. (laughs)
What other changes have you made in your last few bouts to turn your luck around?
I’ve just been training hard, trying to do proper camps and things like that. I’m really looking forward to this fight. I’m in the best shape. Everything should be going really good. My mindset is really good at the moment and I’m just trying to keep it going.
You are frequently criticized for your lack of submission skills. How do you respond to the critics?
Critics are critics. You can’t really win either way. You just keep fighting and winning, that’s the only way to silence the critics. When you’re out on the main stage of fighting you not thinking about the critics, it’s just the way it is when you’re out there fighting. You’ve just got to keep fighting and winning, that’s all there is to it.
We saw you go for an armbar against Ben Rothwell. Is your submission game something you’ve been focusing on?
I was working really hard for that armbar. The climate there is tough. I only had two weeks there, and you probably need two months to get used to the air. It hit me really hard around the second round. I was working really hard, but people probably thought it didn’t look like it (laughs).
As a mixed martial artist, what’s the key to continue going strong even as you approach your 40s?
Well I’m 37, I’ve got three more years. What’s the key? I still think I’m the best fighter on the planet. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe it. That’s probably one of the reasons; I’m trying to achieve the goal of becoming MMA’s world champion. That’s pretty much the reason I just keep going.
Where do you think a victory over Cheick Kongo puts you in the UFC heavyweight division?
Well, I don’t really care where it puts me. Just keep winning and winning and knocking people out and I don’t really care where it puts me. After I’ve knocked out three or four people, maybe the UFC will say I need another four fights, who knows. I’m going in there trying to win every fight as if it’s my last.
How much longer will we see Mark Hunt compete?
I’m a fighter. I’m a warrior, man. They are going to wheel my ass to the ring. They are going to push me into the ring in the wheelchair and I’ll still be fighting (laughs). I’ll fight as long as I can. I still have some goals and dreams. I still believe I’m the best fighter on the planet, it’s just a matter of proving it. I’m in a pretty good position to try and keep moving forward, so we’ll see what happens in February. I’m looking forward to it, and feeling pretty good at the moment.
You just mentioned still having goals and dreams in MMA. What are they?
[They are] to be the best fighter on the planet, of course.
Is the ultimate goal in that plan to hold the UFC heavyweight championship?
Yes, sir. That’s where it ends up. The best fighter on the planet is thought to hold the UFC world title, right? That’s pretty much what I want to be doing is holding that title and saying I’m the best fighter on this planet.
Speaking of the UFC heavyweight title, how do you feel you match up with current champion Junior Dos Santos?
I don’t really care. He’s the current champion at the moment, but it doesn’t really matter. Every fighter has two arms and two legs, that’s the way I see it.
In the future, would you ever consider a return to kickboxing or K-1?
No, I already accomplished that goal a long time ago and I’m focused on right here. I`ve already been a world champion in K-1, and I lost interest and focus on fighting kickboxing matches. Like I said, I only want to be a mixed martial artist. The last fight I had against Semmy Schilt was something I had to do to get the rest of the fights. They suckered me into that, didn’t they? (laughs)
Thanks and good luck with the fight.
Take care, mate.