11 Nov 2015

'Martial arts saved my life'

12:23 pm on 11 November 2015

Champion fighter Mark Hunt has overcome an abusive upbringing to become one of the world's top mixed martial artists, but he still had to be convinced to tell the story behind the fighting.

UFC fighter Mark Hunt

Mark Hunt had already been to prison twice when he started training as a fighter Photo: PhotoSport

Hunt and his brothers, who were born to a Mormon-Samoan family in South Auckland, were regularly beaten - and his sister was repeatedly raped - by their abusive father, with their mother offering no protection.

After two stints in prison, he was well on the way to spending the rest of his life in and out of jail but was was picked out of a street brawl by someone who recognised his talents as a fighter and he began training as kickboxer.

Hunt eventually won a world kickboxing championship in 2001 and has been fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for the past few years. This weekend, he gets into the octagon again for a UFC rematch with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in Melbourne.

Teaming up with journalist Ben Mckelvey, the 41-year-old fighter has written an autobiography Born to Fight - which looks at his harrowing early life and his journey to success.

Speaking to Nine to Noon this morning, Hunt said he had to be talked into revealing his life story.

"When I was asked by the publishers to write the story, I said no three or four times. I didn't want to air my dirty laundry in the public, I'm not like that, I'm a private person."

Mark Hunt

Mark Hunt Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But when he was told his story could help other people who might suffer from abuse or depression, he stepped up.

"When they said I could help others, I just said, 'yeah, of course'. I've been given a platform with the UFC so I might as well share my story. I wasn't comfortable sitting with Ben and talking about it until I was sure my sister was okay with it, so I just let him call her and that's where it started."

He said the hard upbringing he had suffered seemed normal at the time, but had set him on a path of crime and violence. He would often get into street fights as a young man, but the closest he came to professional fighting was during his two stints in prison, when he would hold the punching bag for other inmates.

After Hunt began training as a kickboxer, he rose up the sport's rankings to win the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2001. He then shifted to the mixed-martial arts discipline, finding more challenges in the hybrid sport. He said the mix of striking and ground fighting meant it felt like he was playing chess as a fighter, and he is now one of the top 10 in the official UFC heavyweight rankings.

He told Nine to Noon his goal was to be the best professional fighter on the planet, but he hadn't even considered fighting in competitions before the possibility arose, saying he did not choose fighting as a career, it chose him.

"I didn't want to be a fighter, and I didn't know I was going to be one. I was in jail a couple of times and I was probably heading back there for a long time. But martial arts saved my life and some of the choices I made with it.

"People always say its an aggressive and bad sport, and just like street fighting, but it's not the same thing. You go into work at the gym every day and it takes away from being an aggressive person in public. You're training every day and you're losing that aggression for the public."

Hunt said he had learned to take 10 minutes at the end of the training session to get out of the fighting head space, and into his role as a loving father.

Mark Hunt

Mark Hunt Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Hunt's story - and that of his brothers and sisters - was one of survival in a horrific environment, that left him with no understanding of how a normal domestic life worked - he had no idea he should change the bed sheets.

He said he was a different person now, but dealing with his issues was still part of his life: "It's not like I don't make mistakes, and always made mistakes and it's always a work in progress."

But with the help of his wife and four children, Hunt said he had been blessed to be surrounded by good people. As for the future, he admitted that it was taking longer for him to recover from his bouts, but that he was still excited to be stepping up this weekend.

"I'm 41 and I'm still running the gauntlet of prize fighting. I'm at the end of my career and can't recover as well as the others, so if it ends on sunday night, then I'm okay with that, because I've done a lot of things other fighters haven't done."