Few men have turned their career around the way that Mark Hunt has. Just as few men have fought so many fearsome names. The recent stint of victories on Mark Hunt's UFC record looks like something of a break from the huge names whom Hunt has been in against throughout his kickboxing and MMA careers.
Hunt has been in with Jerome Le Banner, Ray Sefo, Ernesto Hoost, Francisco Filho, Semmy Schilt and Mirko "Cro Cop" in kickboxing, and "Cro Cop," Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett, among others, in MMA. Win or lose, Hunt is unlikely to be phased by any step up in competition at this point.
Even from the early phases of his kickboxing career, Hunt was one of the few fighters, despite limited training time, to possess knockout power in almost all of the orthodox punches. Make no mistake though, Hunt was focused on his right hand almost entirely as a power puncher in his K-1 tenure. Numerous men fell to his overhand right or his right uppercut, and his left-right flurries also proved enough to stop Jerome Le Banner.
Mark Hunt, however, despite being smart and fairly savvy, is a genetically gifted fighter. With a head possessing the density of a bowling ball and fists to match, Hunt realised that he could beat just about anyone if he drew them into a brawl. Despite having a good technical game, Mark Hunt had a great brawling game and ended up relying on it more and more.
Hunt's recent career resurgence in the UFC has come on the heels of getting back to technical striking to land his legendary power. It's hard to brawl in a sport where opponents are just going to grab you if they get hurt/scared/close enough. Hunt doesn't have the takedown defence to volume strike or swing wild, so he has worked far more on his counter-punching game.
One of Hunt's newer developments is the low counter uppercut. This punch, thrown at almost hip level, is Hunt's go-to method of deterring a wrestler's shot from his opponent. You can see it in action through his bouts with Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell. Indeed Hunt picked up a spectacular walk-away knockout against Tuchscherer.
In the pure striking department though, Hunt's game has changed a great deal since his K-1 days. Hunt, like many great strikers in MMA (including his upcoming opponent Junior Dos Santos), fights with his lead hand low. In addition to making a fighter's lead hand strikes more difficult to predict or see coming, it gives the fighter a much needed shortcut to getting an underhook if his opponent shoots or tries to clinch.
For fighters who don't have the wrestling hips to fight off takedowns constantly, the act of simply having the lead arm low can make the opponent reluctant to shoot, knowing that the underhook is already there.
Hunt's low lead hand also allows him to bring his newly polished left hook up rapidly and catch his opponents with little warning. It also baits strikes to his head from the opponent. The lead hand being low worked a treat in drawing an ill-advised right hand lead from Cheick Kongo which Hunt swung over with his left hook to drop the Frenchman.
Hunto's right hand is held in front of him, actively parrying. This is another new development. Most kickboxers and MMA fighters will fight with their right fist pinned to the right side of their jaw or head. It is curious that Hunt carries his right hand open and ready to parry jabs when so few of the men he has met lately have been frequent, let alone competent, jabbers.
Stefan Struve, whom I constantly criticized for having no jab despite being almost seven feet tall, threw the occasional jab at Hunt and found himself on the hard end of a counter each time.
In truth, though, Hunt's right hand is used in a way which so many fighters in MMA don't understand—pre-emptively eliminating the counter strike. While rear-hand counters are far more dangerous to the fighter on offense (in this case Hunt), they are slow and require the opponent to be waiting on a hair trigger. Lead-hand counters are shorter, quicker and far easier to sneak through.
To prevent himself from getting jabbed in the snout every time he tries to close the distance, especially as most opponents in the division have both height and reach on him, Hunto will cover-press his lead hand into the space between his face and the opponent's lead hand, eliminating the counter jab.
One of the marks of a good boxer is the ability to use both hands at once—not to punch, that would be dumb—but to shut down an opponent's offence while delivering one's own. Joe Louis, the greatest heavyweight champion to date, was not particularly fast or evasive when he moved in to hurt his opponents. What Louis was good at was using his right hand to shut down his opponent's lead hand as he came in. Hunt, while nowhere near the boxer Louis was, does the same thing as he moves in to throw his left hook.
When he's not looking to cover the lead hand and enter with the left hook, or parry the jab and throw the left hook back, Hunt is looking for the cross counter. The cross counter is something I have spoken about numerous times before because I believe, and the evidence certainly suggests, that when landed correctly, it is the most powerful counterpunch of all.
Hunt uses this punch extremely well while playing the role of the smaller man. In K-1, we were used to seeing Hunt as the big lad with the big punch and the concrete jawline. In his last four performances however, Hunt has dropped weight, moved more and really showed how fast his hands are for a heavyweight.
To land his cross counter, Hunt will often give ground to opponents and encourage them to chase him. The fight with Ben Rothwell was simply a showcase of Rothwell's chin as he walked onto punch after punch. Stefan Struve couldn't resist the urge to chase Hunt to the fence and ate a cross counter as he stepped in, which put him on rubber legs. It was from here that Hunt followed up and finished.
One of the interesting factors of the upcoming bout with Junior dos Santos is that Hunt will be fighting an opponent who can actually box reasonably well—so rare in MMA—and who utilizes the jab very often. Hunt's extended rear hand could serve well in moving past these jabs, though Dos Santos often uses the body jab, and if Hunt starts reaching to parry those, he could find himself on the end of a hard punch from the crafty Brazilian.
The main way to take advantage of an opponent with such an active right hand who is constantly looking to smother your own left as Mark Hunt does is to use a lead left hook as his hand is away from his chin. Joe Louis might have been one of the greatest technical boxers in the history of the game, but often he was dropped with wild left hooks out of the gate. "Two Ton" Tony Galento was one of the fighters to famously put him on his seat with this.
While the lead left hook shouldn't work all that well against an opponent with an overly-active right hand who is concerned with absolutely shutting down the jab, it works a treat.
I, as always, make no predictions about the outcome of the fight—if I could do that I would be rich from the proceeds of bets—but I anxiously await the most exciting meeting of strikers at heavyweight since the Overeem—JDS match was taken off the table.
Pick up Jack's ebooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.