There's a substantial list of fighters who have helped the UFC explode into the mainstream consciousness, you may think of Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor but you'd be silly to overlook the likes of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Cain Valesquez, Demtrious Johnston or Dominick Cruz just to name a few. Even Nate Diaz and his brother have been on the scene for a long time, taking part in an explosion of entertainment and sporting combat.
I'm not here to tell you how awesome the UFC is, it's just that through this explosion, there has been one constant for us kiwis to hang our hats on. After a kickboxing career that started back in 1999 and an MMA career that started with Pride in Japan in 2004, culminating in a UFC debut in 2010, Mark Hunt has done and seen nearly all there is to do with regards to fighting another bloke.
The UFC has been on the rise for a while now, however my love affair started with Jon Jones. Jones captured my heart with his unique fighting style, incredible athleticism and determination, which caught my eye around 2010 when he started an incredible run in which he defeated a laundry list of the UFC's upper echelon (Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and Daniel Cormier). Around the same time that Hunt started to gain traction in the UFC after doing his work in away from the mainstream spotlight.
Hunt is a bit younger than you're dad at 41-years-old (very soon to be 42) and Hunt is still the baddest man in the UFC with his hands. This means that Hunt was 36 when he made his UFC debut, the age at which rugby players are already kicking back contemplating their next move, the same age as a high-class international Test cricket batsman who is enjoying their twilight years as their job isn't overly strenuous on the body. And here Hunt is, still fighting the best in the business, hunting another title shot.
I consider myself pretty damn lucky that my love for the UFC coincided with Hunt's presence in the UFC. It's a confusing matter as to which country represents when fighting in the UFC as he is commonly listed as fighting out of Australia and probably identifies more with Australia at this current time of his life over Aotearoa, given the migration between the two countries, no one can hold this against Hunt. Regardless, he's always representing Samoa
Which country Hunt fights out of means little to me though, as I know where Hunt was born and where he grew up; South Auckland. That's enough for me, just knowing that Hunt is from where I'm from and is achieving what he's achieving in his chosen pursuit is enough for me to follow Hunt's journey closely. A journey that is taking place in his twilight years as he completely blows away any sporting convention regarding the age of an athlete.
This weekend Hunt fights Frank Mir at UFC Fight Night 85 in Brisbane as Hunt relishes his status as a consistent drawcard in the heavyweight division. Hunt has only had one title fight (vs Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180) which doesn't point to being a prized UFC asset, however when you consider they way Hunt fights, he's always going to pull in some sort of audience as there's a near-guarantee that the fight will ooze excitement.
Scratch a little deeper though and Hunt's value to the UFC is clearly visible. The UFC's home is Las Vegas and it's foundations are rooted in the United States of America and Brazil, yet now the world is the UFC's oyster and that means breaking new ground, reaching new points on the map. In his past five fights, Hunt has fought in Australia three times (which will become four) while his other two fights have been in Japan and Mexico.
In 11 UFC fights, Hunt has only fought in the USA three times. Hunt's background in kickboxing and Pride means he's a bankable fighter in Japan (three UFC fights) while his presence in Australia is perfectly suited to the UFC's push into Dingo-ville; remember when Holly Holm torched Ronda Rousey in Melbourne? Yeah well that came after Victoria changed their laws regarding fighting in 'cages' or an octagon and it's safe to say that Australia loves the UFC.
Hunt is effectively a safe bet for the UFC, which benefits both parties. The UFC has a fighter who will take any fight, put on a great show and sell out a venue in Australia, while Hunt continues to have a job in the UFC and is still in the mix for a title shot if he's winning enough fights. In the world of dopey-dopers, especially in the UFC, Hunt is also a clean-skin who the UFC don't have to worry about in regards to any sort of dramas.
One look at his physique and you can tell that Hunt isn't on any steroid or Testosterone-replacement-therapy as he's not exactly ripped. Hunt was specifically designed to fight with a chin/noggin that can take the hardest of shots and despite his chubby look, Hunt has a track-record of displaying the fitness that I can only envy. Five rounds? Yeah, nah, I'm good, yet Hunt has twice gone into a fifth round in his past five fights.
There's a similarity between Steven Adams, Lydia Ko and Mark Hunt that should fill any kiwi with pride and it's got little to do with their athletic abilities. Adams constantly has me smiling or chuffed that such a bloke is representing you and I in the NBA, same with Ko and it's the same with Hunt. The fight business is such that you've simply got to talk it up, however Hunt is a straight shooter who shares the same down-to-Earth sense of humour that many of us have, that Kiwi Steve has, that Lydia has.
Throughout my South Auckland travels, I've met many guys like Hunt who simply don't have time or the patience to hear your bravado or excuses. We've all seen those scuffles where two lads get into a huff and a puff, bags off, shirts off and don't actually do anything, which is the polar opposite of the type of guy Hunt is. For every five 'fight's I've seen that follow that narrative, I've seen a fight where a guy like Hunt lays a hook on your chin just as you're opening your mouth to say your last wishes.
Ruthless? Yeah, it also points to (as Pauly D would say) a straight-up-and-down-no-playing-around-no-bullshit nature of Hunt that resonates with me and should resonate to the average kiwi. Not only is Hunt a fun fighter to watch, he's a fun fighter to follow in the world of hype and glamour.
Part of the glory of the UFC is that if you're slightly off your game, you'll lose. We've seen many 'shocking' results recently, shocking to those who know a high-profile name but not shocking to those who know that the top-10 in each weight division is a collection of figurative killers. That unpredictability adds to the excitement, it also means that with each fight that Hunt takes, there's a chance that this could possibly be the end.
Frank Mir presents a challenge to Hunt's perceived weakness, if Hunt over-commits on a punch or lapses in concentration for a split-second (like McGregor and Holm did recently) then Mir will swiftly attempt a takedown, testing Hunt's famed takedown defence. While the UFC could keep Hunt around as a bankable fighter, a loss to Mir could mean the end for Hunt, such is life when you're in Hunt's position.
Losses aren't good, losses mean you're going to struggle to get a big fight next, which means you're going to miss out on the payday that a big fight brings. For Hunt though, a loss could mean the end to a stellar fighting career.
A win? Well, a win means a step closer to another UFC heavyweight title shot, a possibility that isn't exactly a far-flung dream.
Supporting Mark Hunt is a high-stakes pursuit, so imagine being Hunt himself. That's the way it goes in your twilight years, if we can even call them twilight years for Hunt as his love for fighting means that the end may not be near at all. Here's hoping Hunt continues to make waves, at least for a few more years so we'll have Hunt and semi-kiwi Robert Whittaker bringing the ruckus in the UFC at the same time.