"Have I got any snot on my nose?"
This is the first thing that Mark Hunt -- top 10 MMA heavyweight, New Zealander, resident of Australia, star of the upcoming EA Sports UFC video game -- says to me. Thankfully there is no snot on his nose. This is not the conversation you want to be having with a man famous for punching people in the face really, really hard.
Mark Hunt is one of the most incredible stories in combat sports. When the UFC acquired Pride, a legendary martial arts promotion featuring some of the world's greatest fighters, fans salivated at the prospect of new match-ups between the upper echelon of the UFC and best performers in Pride. Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, Mirko 'Crocop' Filopovic, Wanderlei Silva.
But no-one was thinking about Mark Hunt, a former K1 World Champ who had struggled to transition to the world of mixed martial arts, with its wrestling, jiu-jitsu and submissions. Hunt was used to hitting people. Hard. He wasn't ready to defend armbars, kimuras and keylocks. He had lost his last five fights in a row.
Despite acquiring his contract in the buyout of Pride, the UFC wanted no part of Mark Hunt. He was 35 years old and, despite standing at 5 feet 10 inches, weighed almost 120 kilograms. He had an MMA record of five wins and six losses.
It got to the point where the UFC would rather buy Mark Hunt out of his contract than have him be a part of the company.
Mark Hunt said no. I want to fight.
And he fought like hell. After a loss in his first UFC fight, Mark Hunt went on a legendary tear, ripping through a series of highly favoured contenders with one spectacular knockout victory after another. It culminated in a fight with ex-Champion Junior Dos Santos, which he lost despite a heroic effort (fighting most of the match with a broken big toe) and an incredible match up with Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva in Brisbane, Australia -- a fight many have dubbed the greatest heavyweight fight of all time.
Now, at 39 years old, Mark Hunt is one of the oldest fighters on the UFC roster. He is also one of the most popular. The Super Samoan, the KFC King: famous for his step-in right hook, his crushing uppercuts and -- of course -- his walkaway knockout. Most fighters will go straight to the ground and finish the job if they connect with a big shot, but if Mark Hunt hits you, there's no point. You're done. All that's left to do is walk away.
"I’m an amazing guy, I love myself," he laughs. "No-one else is gonna!"
Mark Hunt only has one weakness. Counter-Strike Source.
"It was a problem actually! I used to play games a lot," he explains. "When I was training for K1 I missed a lot of training because I was gaming so much.
"Counter-Strike was my poison and I used to play that game for hours and hours and hours. So the guys would call me up for training and I’d be like *cough* *cough* *cough*. I’m sick!
"And then all they hear in the background is ‘fire in the hole’ ‘fire in the hole’!
"Then they’d be like, your frickin’ playing that game again, and I’d be like nah nah nah I’m sick and just hang up!"
Mark has eased up on the Counter Strike, despite the introduction of Counter Strike: Global Offensive.
"I’m not a young guy anymore," he explains. "It was different before. Now I have to take training more seriously."
When he jokes about Counter-Strike impacting his training, Mark Hunt is only half joking. One of Hunt's most infamous fights was a kickboxing match against Ray Sefo. Hunt was so tired in the later rounds that he basically put his gloves down and invited Sefo to punch him, taking all of his shots with a broad smile on his face.
"That’s what happens when you don’t train and you play video games," he says. "You get really tired like I was and you’ve got no defence! That was one of those times when I was playing video games and not doing enough training."
So, today, Mark Hunt plays less video games. "It’s a hard balance to keep," he explains. "When your wife’s on your back to do stuff, someone’s gotta mow the lawn you know!"
And there is, of course, the training. Fighters don't often improve in their later years, but Mark Hunt is the exception, dramatically improving his ground game to go along with his devastating striking. This is a testament to hard work, and a willingness to learn. It's rare in mixed martial arts, particularly when fighters are masters of one specific discipline, like Hunt.
"Before I retire I want a shot at that title," he says. "A couple more fights I think. Try and take out some of the top guys and get my shot at the title.
"And once I retire from fighting, it's back to Street Fighter and Counter-Strike!"