There was a time in his life when Mark Hunt was angry. He was upset by what he didn't have and was consumed by this feeling that the world owed him something.
He looks back now and is thankful that he didn't do something extraordinarily violent, because it was something he was capable of doing.
"Had I not found martial arts," he says, calmly, "I'd probably be in jail or who knows where right now. Fighting saved my life, I believe."
The change in Hunt's life has been so dramatic that now, as he's become one of the top mixed martial arts fighters in the world, he says there is nothing material that much interests him.
Even the UFC heavyweight title belt draws a sigh from the New Zealand native.
"I don't care much about a title," Hunt said, only a few days before he's to meet Stefan Struve on Saturday (Sunday in Japan) in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV 8 at the Saitama Super Arena outside of Tokyo. "A belt, things like that, are meaningless to me."
The 38-year-old's lack of interest in things that greatly motivate his peers is because he has, he said, surrendered his life to god.
A one-time K1 kickboxing world grand prix champion, Hunt turns nearly every question on virtually every topic into a discussion of his faith. Now that his eyes have been opened to God, he said, he realizes how useless things that once seemed important to him were.
He lives his life now, he said, not to accumulate wealth and material things but to please God. The result, he said, is a happier and more successful person.
"The reason why I do things is because I have surrendered my life to God, man, and that's it, really the easy way of saying why I do what I do. … People say I can't do something; it goes in one ear and out the other," Hunt said. "I know, it's kind of funny.
"The things that were important and really mattered to me in my life before I was a follower of Christ, Jesus Christ, they don't matter that much any more. It's kind of crazy, but it's like I was in the darkness walking around and someone turned the light on. Money doesn't matter; a lot of things don't matter any more. It's just funny. I don't know how better to explain it, but my life is now all about God and understanding more completely what He wants."
The UFC acquired Hunt's contract when it purchased the PRIDE Fighting Championship in 2007. It's no secret that UFC president Dana White had little interest in Hunt, who had lost five fights in a row in PRIDE when the UFC bought the company.
Hunt had three fights remaining on the contract that the UFC purchased, and White was willing to buy out the deal and let Hunt walk. Hunt, though, wasn't so willing.
He wanted to earn what he'd worked for and so he asked White to allow him to fight.
He was coming off consecutive losses to Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Melvin Manhoef and Gegard Mousasi, but Hunt felt he should earn his money. White agreed, and matched him with Sean McCorkle.
McCorkle submitted Hunt at UFC 119 on Sept. 25, 2010, and it seemed that Hunt's MMA career was over. But he was given another shot and hasn't lost since.
He knocked out Chris Tuchscherer and Cheick Kongo and won a decision from Ben Rothwell. Suddenly, improbably, Hunt was in the title mix.
Hunt said it was simply a mental adjustment.
"After I won the K-1 World Grand Prix title [in 2001], I was pretending like I trained and pretending as if I was preparing properly, but I wasn't doing it," Hunt said. "It was a mental thing, I guess. I tried to get on the right track by changing my training and all that jazz. It kind of feels like my first fight."
A win over Struve, one of the UFC's hottest heavyweights, will put him squarely in the title mix.
Hunt, though, sloughs off the significance.
"My job is to go out there and fight, and I'm going to fight with everything I have," Hunt said. "[Struve] is just a human being and what he has doesn't really matter to me. The fight will be what the fight will be. Whatever it is, it is. Win, lose or draw, it doesn't matter. What will matter is to give the people an entertaining show and for me to continue to give glory to God."
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