Former K-1 Grand Prix champion, Mark Hunt, is set to battle with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Frank Mir, this Saturday (March 19, 2016) inside Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Brisbane, Australia.
His recent record may not be pretty, but Hunt has proven himself to be one of the best Heavyweights in the world. The striking specialist has grown tremendously over the recent years, which primed him for his late career revival that allowed him to challenge for the title in 2014.
However, Hunt's future is unclear. He followed up that title loss with a disappointing showing opposite Stipe Miocic -- who is at least a top contender -- before getting back in shape and knocking out Antonio Silva in quick fashion. Now, Hunt will look to make another run toward the top.
Let's take a look at the "Super Samoan's" skills in depth:
Much of Hunt's career renaissance has been thanks to his development as a striker in addition to fixing up his grappling game. Early on, Hunt was a brick-chinned brawler, and while that power and toughness still remains, Hunt is now a far more patient and tactical fighter.
Inside UFC, Hunt has largely operated as a counter striker, which has a few benefits. For one, Hunt's shorter reach is less of an issue, as one of the best ways to overcome a reach advantage is to force the longer man to reach. Plus, counter striking allows Hunt to stay tight defensively, both in terms of avoiding the takedown and his opponent's punches.
Hunt's primary weapon is his counter left hook (GIF). Each time his opponent attempts to keep him at bay with a jab or long cross, Hunt will look to come over the top with his slick check hook. Hunt usually turns his hand all the way over on this punch, landing with his bottom knuckles.
Much of the time Hunt is looking to counter, he's stalking his opponent and standing within their boxing range. Once his opponent commits to a strike, Hunt will slip or parry the blow and return his left hand. It's an aggressive form of counter punching, and it helps ensure that Hunt isn't forced to trade jabs with a longer opponent.
Hunt may look to counter often, but it's not like the New Zealand-native is afraid to lead. In fact, Hunt likes to lead with his left hook as well. If his opponent is backing away or there's simply a fair amount of distance between them, Hunt makes good use of the lunging hook (GIF).
It's now taken a back seat to his left hook, but Hunt still attacks with his long right hand pretty commonly. Every once in a while, Hunt will charge his opponent with a big right hand, but he usually mixes it into combinations well or attempts to counter his opponent's jab with the strike. In his most recent bout, Hunt did a nice job of herding Antonio Silva into his right hand, as "Bigfoot" had prior experience with Hunt's left hook and was looking to avoid it again.
It didn't work out for him (GIF).
Most of Hunt's combinations are a mix of left hooks and right hands. Since the left hook goes around his opponent's guard while his right hand -- usually thrown as a straight or overhand -- goes straight through his opponent's defenses, it's difficult to properly defend against both strikes. If his opponent's defense is poorly timed or he adjusts too much to either strike, he'll be left wide open to absorb a powerful shot (GIF).
Hunt has been using his kicks a bit more often as well. Hunt has some nasty low kicks and will even occasionally mix in a kick to the body. Either way, Hunt's kicks can be very effective, and he should consider relying on them more.
Thanks to his improved takedown defense, Hunt has been able to punish his opponents for trying to drag him to the mat. If his opponent takes a shot from far out or repeatedly ducks down, Hunt will shovel an uppercut straight into his jaw (GIF).
Defensively, Hunt is no longer lunging forward, so he's much safer overall. Basically, he's not likely to run straight into a knockout punch like the one Melvin Manhoef delivered many years ago. However, Hunt does have a problem absorbing low kicks, as his stance is not great for checking/avoiding and he simply cannot counter effectively from that range.
Hunt has become a very solid wrestler, greatly aided by his physical strength and low center of gravity. Most Heavyweights simply aren't slick enough to get in on his hips effectively, with Stipe Miocic being the only consistent exception.
While Hunt usually doesn't look to take down his opponent, he's proven to be opportunistic when his opponent forces the issue. For example, Hunt hit a very slick foot sweep on Stefan Struve when the lanky Dutchman kept trying to force his way into the clinch (GIF). Additionally, Hunt used underhooks to gain top position against both Fabricio Werdum and Ben Rothwell when the two repeatedly shoot for long range double legs with little set up.
The most important example of Hunt's offensive wrestling came in his first fight with "Bigfoot," as Hunt was getting battered on his feet for the first two rounds. First, he caught one of Silva's low kicks and blasted him off his feet with a tackle. Next, Hunt shot for a double against the fence. When "Bigfoot" stepped out of the double, Hunt reshot from an angle, which knocked Silva onto his back.
The technique may not have been pure wrestling, but speed and power will always go a long way in finishing the shot.
Opponents that shoot straight in on Hunt with simple single or double legs are in for a rough night. Again, his low center of gravity and balanced kickboxing make it very difficult to get in on his hips. Plus, Hunt is usually ready to sprawl or jam an uppercut up the middle at any moment, which makes shooting a difficult task.
Hunt is also a difficult man to wrestle with inside the clinch. Now that he really knows how to wrestle, Hunt is able to effectively fight for underhooks and circle off the fence pretty easily. This was first noticeable in his bout with Cheick Kongo. When the Parisian attempted to employ his standard game plan of holding his opponent against the fence and kneeing his opponent's thigh/groin, Hunt easily circled Kongo around and pushed him away.
Hunt may have been submitted a fairly shocking six times, but it's not solely because of poor technique. Though a lack of grappling experience certainly didn't help, Hunt has always been a risk taker on the ground. While it's allowed him to find unexpected success now, it was costly earlier in his career.
The kickboxer's general fearlessness in the ring nearly carried him to one of the strangest upsets of all time. After miraculously rolling out of Fedor Emelianenko's arm bar, Hunt landed on top and in side control. Almost immediately, Hunt attacked with an Americana, deciding to trade submissions with the Combat Sambo master just two years into his professional career.
It didn't work out for him, but Hunt legitimately threatened "Last Emperor" with the shoulder lock.
A bit more recently, Hunt attempted to take Ben Rothwell's arm home with him. After Rothwell gassed terribly, Hunt found himself in the mount. When Rothwell raised his arms up to defend from strikes, Hunt moved into the technical mount. From that position, he laced up his opponent's arm and fell back. Time ran out before Hunt could break his opponent's grip, but he likely would've finished the hold.
Yes, Hunt almost arm-barred the fighter who handed Josh Barnett his sole submission loss (GIF). Heavyweight MMA gets weird.
In another dangerous moment, Hunt choose to dive into Werdum's guard after defending a takedown. That's a risky proposition for any Heavyweight, but Hunt kept himself safe by keeping good head position and driving his opponent into the fence. Before Werdum could really open up or get anything going, Hunt then returned to his feet.
Despite all that improvement, Hunt's bottom game is fairly weak. He simply doesn't have the body type to play any type of guard, and that's a very difficult strategy for most Heavyweights. He still hasn't been submitted in a few years, but Miocic had little trouble wrecking Hunt's face with ground strikes.
Mark Hunt is legitimately one of the Top 10 fighters in the world, and there's really no denying it. However, the question of how much time he has left must be asked, as Hunt may not compete more than a couple more times. In that case, every fight is extremely important for Hunt, as he cannot afford any more setbacks if he's to make one last title run.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.