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.