The autobiographical rags-to-riches story of Mark Hunt, the New Zealand MMA fighter who overcame staggering odds to become a UFC champion is covered in Peter Brook Bell’s doco Mark Hunt: The Fight of His Life. Screening at this year’s Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival, Bell tells us more about the fascinating character at the heart of the film.
FLICKS: Describe your film in EXACTLY eight words.
PETER BROOK BELL: An underdog fighter overcomes his demons to succeed.
How did you come to know Mark – and realise you needed to make a film about him?
I was asked to direct the film by the producer. I read Mark’s book “Mark Hunt: Born to Fight” which made me certain I could make a film on him.
Was it a challenge to get your subject to open up in the film?
This was the hugest challenge. Mark was used to dealing with media, but media in the fight world, where they want a quick interview grab or a funny one line comment. In the first interview when I asked questions he kept saying “read the book”. It was one thing for him to open up on the page and a completely different challenge to get him to open up on camera.
I quickly made a decision that I wouldn’t interview Mark again until he had gained the trust of myself and the crew. This took time, but it paid off.
What were some of the most surprising things you learned about the life of a UFC fighter and kickboxer?
Well I knew nothing about MMA or kickboxing so it was all new to me. Firstly, I was surprised at how huge these sports are. The top K1 fighters are revered like gods in Japan. I was shocked at how lenient the UFC is on drug cheats, which is something we follow Mark campaigning against in the film.
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What can we take away from Mark’s determination to fight for fairness outside the ring?
In the film Mark campaigns to make drug cheats in the UFC pay harsher penalties. This is after he had fought three fighters in a row who got later tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. As Mark says, it’s not just that they are cheating, someone could get killed as a consequence.
Mark has had to fight for everything he has in life. His upbringing and childhood were certainly “not fair”, and I think because of that he has an innate sense of what is right and wrong. Currently in the UFC if you don’t make weight (that is, you are over your weight class limit) you have to give your opponent a percentage of your fight fee. But if you drug cheat then your opponent gets nothing—and the cheat gets a small fine. Mark saw this as grossly unfair and he called it out.
During production, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
Two major hurdles. One was building trust with Mark, which took time. Like many fighters, he has been bitten by unscrupulous people in his career, so he was very wary of us initially. The second huge hurdle rights to fight footage. Part of this was tracking down rights holders for his Japanese fight footage and part was because Mark is currently suing the UFC over the drug cheats he fought. Consequently they refused to let us use their footage. You will see how we get around that in the film.
For you, what was the most memorable part of this whole experience?
I think watching Mark win his fight in Auckland in 2017 was huge. It was the first time he had fought in his home country since leaving 20 years before. His family, his friends and local were all there to see it. It was pretty special.