There is genuine surprise in Mark Hunt’s voice when he learns the news.
For once, oddsmakers have the “Super Samoan” as the favorite for his fight this weekend against Frank Mir in the main event of UFC Fight Night at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
“I’m actually the favorite? That’s great; that’s a first isn’t it? (Laughs)”
Maybe the world has finally stopped underestimating Hunt, ranked number nine in the UFC heavyweight division.
At first glance, you can understand why Hunt has been doubted so long. He doesn’t have a chiseled physique. His MMA record is an unimpressive 11-10-1, partly due to the well-documented years in which Hunt did not take the sport seriously.
But that doesn’t do Hunt justice. You might guess Hunt is a powerful puncher by looking at his stocky 5’10 frame, but the former K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion is deceptively fast and precise with his strikes. With six victories in the UFC, including vicious one-punch knockouts of Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve, Hunt has established himself as a legitimate contender.
His last fight against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva was a rematch of one of the most celebrated fights in UFC history, a back-and-forth brawl that ended in a draw. But there was no need to dig deep this time, as Hunt finished Silva at 3:41 of the first round, dropping him with a punch to the temple before following up with several quick blows to his downed opponent. After a lopsided TKO loss to Stipe Miocic in May of last year, it was clear Hunt was back.
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But the 41-year-old fighter says he prefers the underdog role.
“That (being the favorite) sucks for me because I like being underestimated; then I can come and steal (the win) and they won’t know about it.”
New Zealand-born Australian Hunt has plenty of respect for the skills of number 10-ranked UFC heavyweight Mir. The Las Vegan has twice captured the UFC heavyweight belt, a feat that has so far eluded Hunt, who lost an interim title shot against Fabricio Werdum by second-round TKO in November of 2014.
“Frank is one of the best fighters in the world. He’s number 10, he’s two-time former world champion. I haven’t been UFC champion and he has twice. He’s a top end fighter. I watched him break Nogueira’s arm in Canada, so I’ve watched him have a few good fights.”
If there’s one thing that might make a fighter nervous about Mir, it’s the fact that when he grabs a submission, he’s going for a decisive finish. It’s an approach Hunt understands.
“I think that’s the way to do it. If he’s got something, he’s got something and he’s gotta crank it. If I had something like that I’d do the same thing. There’s no other option but to do it.”
At least on paper, it seems like a straightforward matchup. Hunt will be trying to knock Mir out, and Mir will be trying to take Hunt down and submit him. The “Super Samoan” is matter-of-fact when he describes Mir’s prospects.
“I don’t think he’ll be able to take me down and I don’t think he’ll be able to submit me.”
So what’s going through Hunt’s mind if, worst case scenario, Mir gets him in a dangerous spot on the ground?
“Oh s**t,” he laughs. “That’s what’s probably going through my mind, how did he get there to begin with. Prevention is always best, so I’ve gotta stop him from getting that position. But if he does, I’ll have a lot of submission defense for that.”
Hunt, who is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, believes he has the skills of a black belt.
“Yeah I should’ve been a black belt in jiu-jitsu. I’ve been doing it for like 12, 13 years, and I’m a purple belt now. I didn’t chase the belts, but I was fighting top level guys from my first fights and I practiced a lot more submission defense. I didn’t chase any belts; I just had to learn submission defense.”
While Hunt has never been the type to trash talk an opponent before a fight, there is a particularly strong mutual respect between the two seasoned veterans. In fact, Hunt and Mir had a “compliment off” on an Australian radio station, which saw them competing to say the most flattering thing about their opponent.
“I just think it’s normal,” he said. “It’s work, I don’t see nothing wrong with it, it’s just how we work, so I don’t mind being civilized.”
That’s typical Hunt. After over twenty years in combat sports, he doesn’t need phony beef to get ready for a fight. His opponent may change, but the job remains the same, and Hunt remains cool and businesslike inside and outside the UFC Octagon. His attitude is summed up perfectly by his trademark of casually walking away after landing a knockout punch.
“I try not to have an emotional thing; I just try to keep my mind clear. Emotions make you tired and I don’t want to be emotional while I’m fighting because you get into a lot of deep waters like that, so yeah, I try to have a clear mind.”
Above all, it’s clear that for Hunt, fighting is a way to provide for his family.
The grisly details of Hunt’s upbringing in poverty and violence were detailed in his 2015 autobiography “Born to Fight.” Hunt, who recently took his family on a trip to Samoa, is now able to give his children the life he never had.
“It’s good to spend time with the family and the kids and build memories and to have good times. In the end, that’s what it’s about for me, providing for the family for the kids and that’s it.”
Hunt hopes a win over Mir will earn him a shot at one of the division’s top five, and bring him a step closer to another shot at the belt.
“That’s my aim all the time, to get closer to a title shot.”
Hunt doesn’t offer a specific prediction for Saturday’s fight. Hunt has been in the game too long to believe there are certainties in a fight.
“I don’t know how it will go; I’m going to try my best to put it out in the first round. It’s going to go how it’s going to go.”