Mark Hunt (right): Sherdog.com
In a pair of high-top Air Jordans and matching basketball shorts, an unshaven, 290-pound Mark Hunt doesn't seem like any kind of combat sports star. Barely even a bouncer, really.
"If I'd trained as hard as some of the guys out here, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now," Hunt laments. "I'd be at a different level of fighting.
"I just used up my time. I squandered it," he shrugs.
Despite his nonchalance, he seems genuinely filled with regret.
Hunt may have won the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix and he may own MMA wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, but "The Oceania Super Fighter" hasn't won a fight of any kind in more than four years. He's racked up five straight MMA losses, and in an ignominious K-1 return in April 2008, he was knocked out by a spinning back kick to the guts from heavyweight kingpin Semmy Schilt.
Yet, in spite of his recent failures, the 36-year-old Hunt will get one last chance for redemption, and on the biggest stage imaginable.
The Octagon is seldom a home for 5-6 fighters. Nonetheless, the longtime K-1 and Pride star will make his UFC debut against unbeaten Sean McCorkle when the promotion rolls into Indianapolis on Sept. 25 for UFC 119.
Hunt is aware how fragile his opportunity is.
I ask if he was given the standard four-fight contract. "I'm not even sure on the contract," he responds. "It might be four fights, but I think I have to win my first one first, cause I haven't really been too successful lately."
The fact that he's been given an opportunity at all is a puzzling one. There was a moment following Zuffa's purchase of Pride in 2007 that they were interested in bringing in Hunt, but given the surprisingly dynamic state of the UFC heavyweight division, and Hunt's age, high-profile failures and lack of dedication, one would figure that the moment had passed.
UFC boss Dana White tweeted Thursday that Hunt was owed fights because of the company's purchase of Pride, despite the fact that the course of history showed us many of those contracts were non-transferable and thus unenforceable. However, Hunt himself is unwilling to divulge any deals.
"I don't think I should say anything. I could get in trouble, you know? I'm not saying nothing," he smiles.
"How active in the negotiation were you? Were you involved at all or was it strictly on your management?" I ask. Hunt squints his eyes at me.
"You just changed the way you said the question, didn't you?" he laughs. "I'm still not answering."
Well, fair enough. But that is only the first of two major questions surrounding Hunt's signing.
"Now, your weight," I say.
"You sayin' I'm fat? It doesn't look like, but I've got a lot of muscle under here." Hunt laughs.
"I'm saying you're ... pretty Samoan," I answer. Whatever he may have lost competitively, Hunt certainly hasn't lost in the personality that made him a fan favorite in the first place.
"I never had to make weight before. I never gave a damn what I ate. I've already stopped eating KFC, chocolate, that stuff," Hunt says. "I've got a personal trainer, never had one of them before. I'm not a big person, I'm only 5-foot-10 or something."
Hunt says that he plans on using diet and training to slim all the way down below the 265-pound limit, roughly 25 pounds away from where he's at now. As of yet, he says he hopes he doesn't have to use the sauna, admitting, "I've never done that, either."
The fact Hunt is paying mind at all to his training camp is a significant switch. There's a bizarre amount of naiveté in Hunt. His insights about training and preparation don't seem inattentive; they seem outright negligent, as if at no point in more than a decade as a prizefighter had he ever considered his training in any kind of philosophical way. When he tells me that it's "all about training," I ask what his old training camps were like. He simply tells me, "There wasn't any," shrugging, almost as if that were normal.
There is some measure of irony in this explanation. After all, when Hunt made the leap to MMA almost seven years ago, he was seen as a great candidate to cross over from K-1 to MMA because of his toughness, work ethic be damned. His streetfighting background, his legendary ability to absorb blows to the face and his surprising athleticism for an obviously overweight man all seemed to bode better for success in this sport than some of his other K-1 contemporaries.
"It's been two or three years of bad training for me. Not my training partners, but how hard I trained," Hunt confesses. "I'm looking to go overseas to train for the first time, to really get some good training partners. If I do things like I should do them, it shouldn't matter who I'm facing, ever."
Hunt is undecided about where he's going to train abroad, though he did meet up with Josh Barnett and Erik Paulson at Impact FC's first card in Brisbane, Australia, and is looking to spend time in California at CSW. I can't say I know the man well enough to divine his truest thoughts, but if nothing else, he's explicitly aware of how little he's grown on the ground, and the necessity to rectify it.
"It is what it is now. I wish I could change the way I did things now, but I'm here for a reason," says Hunt. "For me now, I know this is my last chance. I won a K-1 world title, then I fought MMA. I wanted to win, but I didn't have that drive to be a champion. I feel like now, I really want to be an MMA champion."
It's hard to tell if it's truth, bluster, more naiveté or simply something someone with a sub-.500 record feels obligated to say before fighting in the UFC. Odd as it might be, we'll find out in September in Indianapolis if there's really been a sea change in the South Pacific.