Even the powerful, petulant UFC can’t stymie Mark Hunt: The Fight of His Life

The autobiographical rags-to-riches story of Mark Hunt, the New Zealand MMA fighter who overcame staggering odds. Footage of Hunt’s prowess in the ring is impressive and his life story told in moving and candid fashion, writes Steve Newall – even if the UFC do their utmost to stymie the third act of this doco.

A magnificently gifted fighter blessed with softly-spoken, straight-talking charisma, Mark Hunt is a deserving subject in this biographical doco. From an underprivileged and abusive childhood in Aotearoa onwards, Hunt’s life story is at turns grim, inspirational and cautionary—and his ascent to the pinnacle of global kickboxing and mixed martial arts is thrilling to see.

Matter-of-factly addressing his traumatic upbringing, Hunt takes us on a journey that explains how a kid from a Samoan family in South Auckland grew into a troubled street fighter and brawler before being offered a life-changing opportunity to move his fighting inside the ring. Hunt’s moving and candid account of his personal and professional development is remarkably open, and quickly we’re along for a wild ride with him as he rises through the ranks of world kickboxing and fame and fortune in Japan, having traded Karangahape Rd scraps for K1 tournaments.

That’s where the legend of Mark Hunt was made, and it’s impressive to see his prowess in the ring—a combination of stunning stopping power with his fists and an ability to withstand physical punishment learned for all the wrong reasons at the hands of his father. For all his success, the film also examines the extreme highs and lows of Hunt’s personal life, some unsurprising (struggles with gambling, finances and addiction) given the scant opportunity to develop life skills alongside his ringcraft.

You’ll likely feel very much in Hunt’s corner as he battles his way through these problems, and begins to make waves in mixed martial arts—at the same time MMA was consolidating its position as a globally dominating sport into the present-day juggernaut of the UFC. If you know even a little of Hunt’s story, you know he comes into conflict with one of the most powerful sporting bodies ever—on the basis of an ethically-sound stance against doping in sport.

The man’s got no fear, and it’s great to hear him talk about his experience battling the phenomenally rich and powerful UFC, even while fighting for them. Unfortunately, these admirable strengths of character stymie the doco’s third act somewhat. Having been blown away by fight footage throughout, it’s hard to get around the lack of UFC fight action—100% the fault of a spiteful and petulant fighting organisation who withheld permission for Hunt’s fights to be included.

I don’t know what else the filmmakers could have done, and there’s still plenty to recommend in this intimate, thrilling account—but it is nevertheless a disappointing final chapter to a winning doco.