In praise of Mark Hunt.

The trou­bled South Auck­land kid who fought his way to the top.


Sun­day af­ter­noon was spent with my hand over my mouth, for­get­ting to breathe. Ner­vously shift­ing, cussing at the TV, my stom­ach churn­ing, my heart pound­ing, urg­ing, cheer­ing, plead­ing. When Mark Hunt’s heavy hands be­gan con­nect­ing to the body of Der­rick Lewis, I be­gan to ex­hale. The “Su­per Samoan” would de­feat “The Beast”, who would give up in the fourth round, Hunt’s power and su­pe­rior skill and con­di­tion­ing too much for him. There is hap­pi­ness, there is re­lief, there is no one I want to see win more than Hunt.

No team, no fran­chise, no in­di­vid­ual sportsper­son gives me more joy to see win, or more anguish to see lose, than him. Be­cause it’s fight­ing, and you never know what will hap­pen. Be­cause I’ve seen him dom­i­nate in fights, only to be knocked out with a fly­ing knee, or taken to the ground early, en­dur­ing pun­ish­ment for mul­ti­ple rounds on end. Be­cause I’ve watched him lose for the ma­jor­ity of a fight, only to come back in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion, and once he’s got the job done, he shows mercy — the king of the walk-away knock-out; no need to pro­long the pun­ish­ment. Be­cause what­ever pun­ish­ment he takes in the ring is noth­ing com­pared to the vi­o­lence and abuse he suf­fered as a child. What­ever frus­tra­tion you might have had as a fan, see­ing him strug­gle to cut weight in time, is for­given when you read of how he was al­ways hun­gry as a child. Be­cause he’s been a leg­end for years, but New Zealand has been frus­trat­ingly slow to catch on.

We as a na­tion have al­ways seemed some­what elit­ist to­wards com­bat sport — box­ing, kick­box­ing, mixed mar­tial arts (MMA). We pre­fer our men bashed on a rugby field, but sneer if they’re bashed in the ring. We like to speak of the foot­work re­quired to run with a ball, but down­play the foot­work needed to dodge an opponent’s fist or kick, or the chess-like skill re­quired to over­come your opponent.

Hunt knows his worth, and you can see his frus­tra­tion when he re­alises the me­dia here at times do not. He is not afraid to let them know it, and if you’re Mark Hunt, why would you ever be afraid of such a thing? When other Poly­ne­sian sports play­ers rushed to de­fend com­ments made by Sir Peter Leitch, Hunt ex­posed him for racist re­marks he’d made. He does not need the pa­tron­age of Leitch, he will not be okay with be­ing called a “co­conut”. Hunt asked, “Why does the Queen knight such an id­iot?”

He’s been highly crit­i­cal of his em­ployer, the Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship (UFC), and is cur­rently su­ing it over al­leged se­lec­tive en­force­ment of anti-dop­ing laws. Yet the UFC con­tin­ues to have Hunt head­line shows, and he con­tin­ues to fill are­nas in Aus­tralia and most re­cently here, giv­ing Auck­land and New Zealand the kind of in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure not many other ath­letes or sports can achieve.

At 43, he is the old­est fighter on the UFC ros­ter, and ques­tions about his re­tire­ment have of course been asked. With his sons in the ring fol­low­ing his win over Lewis, you see his pride when he speaks of be­ing able to pro­vide for his fam­ily, of the good life his chil­dren have been able to live.

A trou­bled South Auck­land kid who be­came an in­ter­na­tional star, who made sure his kids never had to go hun­gry the way he once did. That’s win­ning. He will likely re­tire soon, but long may he con­tinue to win.

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