Mark Hunt has won the most well-known title in professional kickboxing and been in with many of the best fighters in the world in both kickboxing and MMA.
From Jerome Le Banner and Ray Sefo to Mirko Filipović and Fedor Emelianenko, Hunt has shared a ring or cage with many. What is exciting about Hunt's recent career resurgence inside the UFC is he is now showing the same aptitude for learning techniques he did for kickboxing in his early K-1 career. It's easy to forget that Hunt improved from his debut as purely a brawler.
Of course, sometimes Hunt's attempts at becoming a more technical fighter got him into trouble; for instance, in his K-1 bout with Filipović, Hunt showed greatly improved head movement but was convinced to duck into a brutal head kick after the Croatian faked his venomous left straight.
Now the phrase "K-1 level striking" is misleading. While the K-1 Grand Prix is a grueling task for all fighters involved, it is often as much a game of toughness and luck than it is a true tournament of kickboxing skill. Of course some fighters are so excellent that their skill alone basically carries them through tournaments while barely being out of breath—such as Giorgio Petrosyan—but Hunt's K-1 Grand Prix title is probably the single best example of the craziness of the tournament.
Hunt lost his semifinal bout against Sefo but still gave the hard-hitting fighter a tough match. Sefo was unable to continue in the tournament, and Hunt was able to compete in the final despite the loss.
Today I would like to take a look at some key factors at play in any Hunt bout. These will be:
- Improved grappling
- New counterpunching game
- Possible difficulties with reach
Hunt has always been a barn burner, and his chin has basically allowed him to do whatever he wants in kickboxing. He was never the Bob Sapp or James Thompson breed of "gong and dash" fighter—rushing his opponent from the start—but a bum rush between spurts of decent kickboxing was a common feature of Hunt's K-1 career.
In MMA, however, this overaggression has often cost him severely. I spoke previously on the subject of patience in the striking game for those without a great wrestling pedigree, and until recently Hunt has lacked this severely.
The only occasion on which Hunt has been knocked out in MMA was during his attempt to bum rush the legendary puncher, Melvin Manhoef. Hunt ducked his head, left his stance and simply ran at Manhoef, who countered with a brilliant back-step left hook that floored the Super Samoan.
Against Alistair Overeem and Sean McCorkle, this same overaggression manifested itself in different ways.
Hunt came out and hit Overeem with a hard right hand, pushing the Dutchman to the floor. Hunt then jumped on the more submission-savvy Overeem and passed his guard, but he allowed him to lock an Americana grip on his right arm. This allowed Overeem to place pressure on Hunt's arm and move back to guard, where he finished the arm lock.
Against McCorkle, Hunt stuffed an early takedown and actually looked pretty good until McCorkle pulled guard. At this point, Hunt kept his hands tight and kept good posture where McCorkle couldn't catch him, but he then started punching. As soon as Hunt wasn't staying safe, McCorkle hit a basic hip bump to kimura combination.
Hunt's willingness to try anything in MMA is respectable, but should he push Struve to the floor or end up in his guard, it is advisable that Hunt simply hold back until the referee stands Struve up.
Hunt's grappling has looked better in his recent career—being able to stuff takedowns from Chris Tuchscherer, a respectable wrestler, and immediately counter the usual leaning tactics of Cheick Kongo.
Hunt still got taken down by both Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell, but he has shown a massive improvement in his ability to get back to his feet. This is not the man who simply balled up and stopped looking for escapes when Josh Barnett and Emelianenko were on top of him. This is the crafty Hunt who dropped his hands and seemingly put himself in danger just to get Sefo out of his brilliant defensive game.
When Kongo grabs a hold of someone, he isn't necessarily going down, but he is normally going to have a tedious round. Here Hunt pummels Kongo, turns him and uses his head to break free.
New Counterpunching Game
Hunt has a reputation as a brawler for a reason—he lacked a lot of polish in K-1 even after improving his technique. In recent bouts, however, Hunt has looked much more like the patient, stalking counter striker than the barn burner. Furthermore, Hunt has now realised the enormous potential of counterpunches in a sport where combinations are hard to utilize without being clinched.
His brilliant counter uppercut came into play against Rothwell and Tuchscherer, hurting the latter a couple of times before providing a highlight-reel KO for Hunt.
The genius of this technique is that most heavyweight opponents do not keep their back straight when they shoot, so their jaw is hanging out, exposed. Furthermore, many fighters still look at the ground when they attempt to get control of their opponent's hips. In addition to moving straight into the power of the punch, most of Hunt's opponents cannot see it coming.
Hunt's counter left hook has been present in his last two bouts—working excellent against Kongo. While Kongo's hands are horribly overrated, his form was at least good against Hunt. When the punching arm is extended, the job of covering that side of Kongo's jaw is given to his shoulder, which moves across in front of his jaw line. On extension and retraction there will be a moment where the chin is unguarded by either of these, and this is when Hunt's counter landed.
Hunt has also introduced a cross counter—that is a right hook over the top of his opponent's jab—which is one of the most damaging counters in the game.
Hunt often uses his left hook and jab to circle to his left and set up a right straight, and this is how he finished Kongo. It is a simple technique that puts him at risk of a right hand from his opponents, but he circles away from their right hand often enough that he can catch them by surprise when he circles into it.
Hunt's best chance against Struve seems to be to crowd the big man, whose defense is incredibly porous. Hunt should avoid forays into the ground game because he simply has no reason to try to prove anything at this stage.