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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 136’s Mark Hunt

Combat sports legend, Mark Hunt, will return to the cage opposite submission ace, Aleksei Oleinik, this Saturday (Sept. 15, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 136 inside Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Moscow, Russia.

Generally, this is the party where I try to provide a bit of context to the fight itself or the fighter’s recent history. In the case of “The Super Samoan,” however, the only relevant information is that it’s a Mark Hunt fight. Hunt has been must-see TV for decades, and that was true in the kickboxing ring, even during Hunt’s string of bad losses in Japan, and especially in his rally to Top 10-ranked fighter. Nowadays, there is no push for Hunt to go on another title run, as that time is sadly over. However, that doesn’t make this fight — a wacky match up of badasses in their 40s — any less interesting.

Let’s take a closer look at the legend’s skill set:

Striking

Size and stature are more pivotal factors in how a fighter approaches striking than grappling, and few have a more unusual build than Hunt. The New Zealander is a couple inches under 6’ and routinely walks around heavier than the Heavyweight limit, which makes it easy to assume that Hunt is out of shape. Admittedly, he sometimes is, but generally Hunt is dense ball of both muscle and general thickness.

Most fighters have a significant range advantage over Hunt, but few have been able to do much with it.

For many years, Hunt looked to deal with that distance disadvantage in straightforward manner. Relying on his brick-chin and heavy hands — a pair of attributes that have largely held up to this very day — Hunt would rush at opponents and try to knock heads with deceptively fast power punches.

In the previous few years, Hunt has shown the value of patience and experience. He’s still an aggressive fighter who likes to stalk his foe, but Hunt does a great deal of work on the counter as well.

One of the main advantages of his counter punching approach is that Hunt’s shorter reach is less of an issue. Often, the easiest way to land on a lankier foe is to force that man to lead — MMA fighters rarely have the type of sharp jab that can be relied upon consistently without giving up easy counters. Plus, counter striking allows Hunt to stay tight defensively, both in terms of avoiding the takedown and his opponent’s punches. Even against a long, rangy foe like Alistair Overeem, Hunt managed to work his way inside by slipping his foe’s straight shots and countering.

Much of the time Hunt is looking to counter, he’s stalking his opponent and standing within his boxing range. Once his opponent commits to a strike, Hunt will slip or parry the blow and return his left hook. It’s an aggressive form of counter punching, and it helps ensure that Hunt isn’t forced to trade jabs with a longer opponent.

When Hunt counters, he generally does an excellent job of getting his head off the center line. Whether looking to time a left hook or overhand, Hunt slips to the side and helps ensure he gets the better of the exchange (GIF). While stalking, Hunt does a very nice job of leading as well, keeping his opponent off-balance with the threat of offense. Much of the time, Hunt makes use of a level change or dip forward in order to hide his punches and inch closer, a setup we took a closer look at in this week’s technique highlight.

Another offenssive tactic of Hunt’s is to herd opponents into the right hand. He’ll feint with his left, jab, and jump into the left hook often, which can convince opponents to circle into Hunt’s power. Once that happens, Hunt will look to back his foe into the fence and fire the right hand/elbow, ideally walking his opponent right into the shot. (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, Hunt often finds openings. Being able to throw with big power in both hands is an important advantage. 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. He’s no longer 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 more boxing-focused stance is not great for checking/avoiding the kick.

Wrestling

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 consistently, as getting Hunt down requires either perfect timing or some quality transitional wrestling.

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. While the techniques may not have been pure wrestling, speed and power — along with perhaps a touch of desperation — 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. His low center of gravity and balanced kickboxing simply 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 really unpleasant idea.

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.

Only seriously tough wrestlers — the likes of Stipe Miocic, Curtis Blaydes, and the enhanced Brock Lesnar — have been able to get Hunt down lately. Miocic did so with brilliant feints and a sharp single leg set up by the jab in quite possibly a career best performance. The other two simply overpowered the older man, continually driving into shots and forcing wrestling exchanges until Hunt could not keep up.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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, “The Super Samoan” almost arm-barred the fighter who handed Josh Barnett his sole submission loss (GIF).

Heavyweight jiu-jitsu is 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. Much of the time, Hunt is forced to use the half guard and an underhook to stand. That’s a legitimate strategy, but difficult when it’s the only options, especially against such large opponents. Hunt hasn’t been submitted in a few years, but Miocic had little trouble wrecking Hunt’s face with ground strikes.

On the bright side, Hunt learning how to keep his elbows tucked in guard should prevent him from giving away an easy submission like what happened in the Sean McCorkle fight.

Conclusion

Hunt is no longer in title contention, and it’s unclear just how many more times he will walk to the Octagon. Keeping it short and sweet, the man is 44 years old and still battling tough competition — appreciate him every time he competes, because the Heavyweight division will be considerably less awesome without “The Super Samoan.”


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional 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.

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