“I’ve always thought I could win, otherwise I wouldn't do it.” - Mark Hunt
Even for the winner, most nightclub brawls aren’t the beginning of a path to glory. A rare exception took place in (and outside) a club in Auckland, New Zealand, some 17 years ago when trouble found a young Mark Hunt, who fights Ben Rothwell at UFC 135 this Saturday.
“I was in a nightclub looking for my friend, and there were four guys kicking into him in a corner. I went over to help him and I slipped up and they started kicking both of us (laughs), and then that’s how it started outside the night club,” said Hunt.
A bouncer who witnessed the fray was so impressed with how Hunt, now 37, handled himself that he suggested he take up Muay Thai training.
“The next week I was fighting in the ring.”
That bouncer had an eye for talent - Hunt went on to become a world kickboxing champion, winning the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001. In 2004, he made the switch to MMA and his early transition was promising, as it included decision wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop in Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships.
But in 2006, Hunt hit a rough patch - a six fight, five year losing streak, with five defeats coming by submission. While he was only losing to the best in the sport (names like Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko), that statistic hung over Hunt’s future in the UFC. Finally, in February at UFC 127 he scored a dramatic second round knockout win over Chris Tuchscherer, staving off a submission attempt and reminding onlookers of the speed, accuracy and power in his hands.
Back in February, Hunt expressed frustration at his losing streak or taking a “long time between drinks,” as he put it. Frustrated, yes, but Hunt says he never lost the faith.
“I’ve always thought I could win, otherwise I wouldn't do it.”
The performance of the “Super Samoan” has earned him the 24th of September match against Rothwell at Denver’s Pepsi Center. Rothwell, an ex-IFL champion, hasn’t fought since June of 2010 due to an ACL injury. Initially, his name didn’t ring a bell for New Zealand-born Sydney-based Hunt, who is more MMA fighter than MMA aficionado.
“I don't really know much about him at all. To be honest, I didn't even know his name until I was offered the fight.”
Hunt has since done a little bit of study, but won’t be focusing too much on what Rothwell, who owns a 2007 win over UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson, has done to date.
“I have a little bit of (footage of) his fights and stuff but I think he's gonna be a different fighter altogether,” said Hunt.
That said, Mark Hunt is working on what has given him the most trouble historically: the ground game. That’s wise against Rothwell, 29, who demonstrated that he’s willing and able to play the role of grappler in his last fight, a decision win over kickboxer Gilbert Yvel.
“I've been working on escapes and everything like that,” said Hunt, “Learning the little bits of technique you do need to escape from different positions, working a lot on little techniques and ways to escape.”
Diligently, Hunt left his home in Sydney, Australia early to properly acclimatize to the U.S. and train with some of the best camps in the world.
“I’ve been with the America Top Team guys (for the last four weeks)” said Hunt “Now I’m gonna train with Jamie (Te Huna).”
But diligent preparation requires sacrifice, physical and otherwise. Hunt concedes that it isn’t easy spending so much time away from the comforts of home and family.
“I always miss my family. In Japan I only had to go for a week out of the fight, just train and then go home” said Hunt. “But I have to come here and get acclimatized and everything like that; it took me thirty hours to get here and see Fort Lauderdale, maybe a week or two to acclimatize -- about 3 days with no sleep, it was crazy. I do miss my family a lot”.
But for Hunt, it’s worth it to win. And what about that other effect of a hard training camp; the elusive six-pack?
“They're here, they're right here, underneath all that you know. (laughs)”