When Mark Hunt broke into the combat sports world, his success came largely as a result of his freakish genetics. Hunt had the hardest head and the heaviest hands, and if he could lure the technically crisper fighters of the world into a brawl he had a great chance of laying them out. That began to fade a good while ago. His chin isn't unbreakable anymore, and he can't simply brawl for the knockout, knowing that he can take more than his opponent. The greatest performances Hunt has ever put forward came when he was matched with men whose physical attributes are every bit as good as his were in his physical prime, and he has instead taken them to task by fighting smarter and sharper. His knockout of Roy Nelson is perhaps the best example of this, but last weekend Hunt once again found himself in with a man who hit just as hard and who proved capable of taking Hunt's biggest shots on the dome: The Black Beast, Derrick Lewis.
One of the nice things about the heavyweight division is that while the technical standard is generally lower than the lighter weights, you can really see the small strategic details changing the fights over the long run. Anyone north of 205lbs can knock another man out with a good connection, but as the rounds progress the touches of class will reliably carry the savvy fighter into the driver's seat. The first couple of rounds of Mark Hunt versus Derrick Lewis were uneventful, as Hunt walked Lewis to the fence and occasionally tried to line up the right hand off the double jab, but generally fought very conservatively. Meanwhile Lewis, recognizing that he didn't want to be on the fence and a sitting target for Hunt's right hand, reacted by lashing out at Hunt each time he felt his back foot touch the fence. Hunt would retreat, let Lewis swing, and then begin pressuring back in.
By round three, Lewis was tiring and it was only then that he began circling to try and get off the fence. Hunt cut him off, herding him into good hooks, and eventually began digging to the body with right straights and left hooks. Too many fighters focus solely on the head along the fence but as we examined in the aftermath of Glover Teixeira versus Alexander Gustafsson, the head is the one thing that is able to move around while the fighter is circling around the fence on rails to the left or right. Hunt's body work rapidly worsened Lewis' gas tank.
Lewis' only answer was to lash out off the fence but he did so one or two punches at a time and never really troubled Hunt, spare his last flurry of the fight where he continued into a fourth and fifth blow, catching Hunt with a Murthel Groenhart style skip knee to the dome. It was Lewis' last stand and Hunt stepped in to pick up the stoppage on the exhausted giant immediately afterwards.
On the subject of Murthel Groenhart, his opponent at Glory 42 last weekend and Mark Hunt shared an error. Groenhart landed his signature skip up knee early in the second round and opened a cut on Harut Grigorian. Grigorian turned away assuming the referee was going to have the doctor check the cut and Groenhart decked him from behind.
Against Lewis, Hunt turned his back on Lewis at the hammer (which indicates there are ten seconds remaining in the round) rather than the horn in one round. Luckily, Lewis didn't seem inclined to catch him sleeping, though he was already so tired that it was unlikely he could.
The fight was not one for the ages, but it showed just what a difference good ring position makes, and the importance of being economical with strikes. Derrick Lewis by no means has a bad gas tank for a heavyweight, and the running and jumping kicks he threw throughout this bout point to an athleticism and aptitude that could make him a world beater if combined with some quality ringcraft and strategy. But fighting one jump kick at a time just doesn't cut it against the savviest fighters in this game.
Another example of the importance of ring control came from Alexander Volkonovski. Mizuto Hirota could not stay off the fence for much of the bout and suffered quick outside reaps when he got stuck there. Hirota wasn't hopeless in stuffing the takedowns though, and it was as he circled out that Volkonoski was able to clip him with hard shots. Just as Stipe Miocic showed against Junior dos Santos, if the man on the fence is still wrestling as he circles out, his hands are not in position to guard against strikes. Volkonovski caught that familiar stepping right hook:
Volkonovski also used Jon Jones' signature spinning elbow from the chest-to-chest clinch. It seemed gimmicky when Jones first introduced this technique to the UFC, but the power of the back elbow cannot be denied, and if the opponent's hands are brought down to wrestle and he is unable to retreat because of the fence, it is well worth attempting.
Another important principle which Hirota versus Volkonovski demonstrated was the danger of trying to sweep from half guard without unbalancing the opponent, and particularly trying to sweep as a response to being hit hard. If you have watched MMA for any period of time you will already be familiar with this, fighters attempting to get underneath and work deep half guard but getting their wrist trapped beneath the opponent and their head elbowed into oblivion while they squirm to retrieve it. Antonio Silva took a pasting here from Cain Velasquez, and Jose Aldo finished the great Alexandre Franca Nogueira from this position in his very first fight with the WEC.
The stand out performer of the night was Dan Hooker. Hooker's opponent, Ross Pearson is one of the sharpest counter punchers out there, so it was good to see Hooker make use of his length: low kicking Pearson and scrambling the Brit's signal with a deceptive, flicking jab. Pearson was forced to leap for left uppercuts and hooks in the wake of Hooker's attacks, leaving him susceptible to counters.
By the second round, Pearson was being thrown off so well by Hooker's feints and non-commital jabs that he began to reach to parry the jab instead.
Attempting to grit his teeth and apply some pressure on Hooker, Pearson leapt for a left and ate a perfectly timed knee as he attempted to duck out of the path of Hooker's expected return.
Fight Night: Hunt versus Lewis proved to be a very solid night of fights even as a televised card with just a smattering of star power. This is extremely encouraging given the state of next weekend's card.