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Michael Hunter is Fueled by Thoughts of his Father as he Pursues Heavyweight Glory

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“I got into boxing because of my dad and then I stayed in it because of my dad.” So said Michael Hunter who fights undefeated Sergey Kuzmin a week from Friday at Madison Square Garden on DAZN with the winner very much in the mix for a shot at a world heavyweight title in 2020.

For the uninitiated, Michael Hunter is the son of the late Mike “The Bounty” Hunter. Active from 1985 to 1996, Mike Hunter, an undersized heavyweight, was one of the more interesting fighters of his era. He had a unique style, a style that defied description. Perhaps the best comparison would be Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, a boxer best remembered for his two fights with Floyd Patterson. “Name a punch,” said Arthur Daley of the New York Times, “and (Hurricane Jackson) has it. He also has a few nobody ever thought of before.”

All comparisons are imperfect and this is giving Mike Hunter the worst of it. He was very hard to hit cleanly. There were elements of his game similar to (take your pick) Young Griffo or Willie Pep or Pernell Whitaker. And he had a granite chin. He was stopped only once and that was in his final pro fight in Copenhagen against Brian Nielsen when he retired on his stool after four rounds with an injury of dubious authenticity. At that, he lasted one round longer than Tony Tubbs who went out the same way. The expression “There’s Something Fishy in Denmark” didn’t originate with Danish boxing promoter Mogens Palle but it could have.

Mike Hunter finished his career with a record of 26-7-2 with one no-decision. Who knows how far he would have gone if he had packed a harder punch? He scored only eight knockouts. But despite this drawback, he was one of the great spoilers in heavyweight history. Among his victims were Oliver McCall, Pinklon Thomas, Ossie Ocasio and Tyrell Biggs, all of whom out-weighed him by 16-20 pounds. On one of the rare occasions when he was pitted against a man of his own poundage, he dropped down to cruiserweight and won a wide 12-round decision over Dwight Muhammad Qawi.

Many boxing mavens know only the raw details of Mike Hunter’s life. They know he served time in prison before starting his boxing career at age twenty-six. They know he died under strange circumstances. He was shot during an altercation with two plainclothes policemen on the roof of the gone-to-seed St. Moritz Hotel in Hollywood where he had been staying. The cops were reportedly conducting a routine drug sting. He was shot twice and died from his wounds.

These raw facts, while true, obscure the true Mike Hunter. Among other things, he was a family man, devoted to his children. In Las Vegas, where he lived during the bulk of his boxing career, he usually brought his kids with him to the gym. In 1990, when he went off to Australia to fight hot prospect Jimmy Thunder, he arrived in Melbourne with his family, including two-year-old Michael, in tow. After Mike knocked out Thunder, the family remained in Australia for almost two years. (It was there that young Michael Hunter first learned to talk. When the family returned to the U.S., Michael’s playmates were bemused by his Australian accent.)

When Michael Hunter says that he got into boxing because of his father, he is referencing the fact that he literally grew up in the sport. There was also a boxing connection on his mother’s side. His maternal grandfather Norman Henry was a matchmaker in Philadelphia and for a time ran a boxing gym in Santa Monica. Norman Henry was close pals with Archie Moore and served as an adviser to George Foreman when Foreman re-entered the sport after a 10-year absence.

Michael idolized his father. In one of their conversations, the elder Hunter told his son how proud he would be if he became an Olympian. It eventually happened, but it took two tries.

Hunter made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team as a super heavyweight, but had to clear more hurdles to punch his ticket to Beijing and came up short in the final Olympic qualifier in Guatemala. Pressured to turn pro, he elected to give it one more shot although that meant staying an amateur for four more years.

In 2012, competing as a heavyweight, he represented the U.S. at the London games, fulfilling his father’s dream. But he failed to medal, losing his second-round contest to Russia’s Artur Beterbiev on a close and controversial decision.

Hunter won his first 12 pro fights before running into fellow unbeaten Oleksandr Usyk. Hunter had his moments, but the Ukrainian cruiserweight, who had a big 12th round, won by seven points on all three cards. Michael’s management then decided that henceforth Michael would compete only as a heavyweight.

Hunter, in common with his father, had always fought bigger men. While still a teenager, he sparred with the likes of Samuel Peter and Hasim Rahman, the latter a long-time family friend who is now a member of his brain trust. As an amateur he swapped punches with the towering Tyson Fury at a U.S.A.-England dual meet. The judges gave Fury the decision in the 3-round go which Hunter insists was a great injustice. His former sparring partners include both Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, who brought Hunter to their training camp in a small skiing village in the Tirol mountains of Austria, a place that Hunter would like to re-visit. He says it’s the most beautiful place on earth.

Since fighting strictly as a heavyweight, the results have been smashing. He’s won five straight, including stoppages of Martin Bakole Ilunga (KO 5) and veteran Alexander Ustinov (TKO 10).  The previously undefeated Ilunga, who carried 256 pounds on a six-foot-six frame, was touted by no less an authority than Barry McGuigan as the next big thing. They fought at London’s venerable York Hall.

Stylistically, Michael Hunter doesn’t fight anything like his father. But like his dad, he has embraced the role of a spoiler.

This past April, Hunter signed a promotional deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization. Shortly thereafter, Anthony Joshua’s fight with Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller fell out when Miller tested positive for PEDs. Several writers, including this reporter, rated Hunter the favorite to fill the empty slot, but Hearn ultimately picked Andy Ruiz.

Hunter was ringside for Joshua-Ruiz. When Ruiz scored his first knockdown, Hunter remembers shouting to no one in particular, “I told you so; I told you.” Hunter had sparred with Ruiz and like all the others that had shared the ring with the Mexican, he knew that there was more to Ruiz than meets the eye.

Hunter’s nemesis Oleksandr Usyk had previously signed with Matchroom. As first reported by The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger, Usyk will make his debut as a heavyweight on Oct. 12 in Chicago against Suriname-born Tyrone Spong, a former champion kickboxer who left that sport in 2014 after suffering a fractured leg in a fight in Istanbul.

“Skill-wise,” says Hunter, “Oleksandr Usyk can out-box any heavyweight. However, he doesn’t fight like a heavyweight and for that reason he may have trouble getting big fights. Heavyweights don’t like to get out-boxed. If they are going to lose, they would prefer to lose to a slugger.”

These remarks harked to his father. No important heavyweight wanted to fight Mike “The Bounty” Hunter, for even if he were to beat him, he wasn’t likely to look good in the process. The elder Hunter secured several big fights only because a replacement was needed and the promoter was desperate. He fought Tyrell Biggs for the vacant USBA title on 24 hours notice, salvaging a Top Rank ESPN fight that unraveled when Tony Tubbs tested positive for cocaine, his second infraction. Oh, and by the way, Hunter won the fight.

In addition to being a participant, Michael Hunter is a fan of boxing. He’s very much looking forward to the forthcoming light heavyweight unification fight between Oleksandr Gvozdyk and his old amateur rival Artur Beterbiev. “This will be a beautiful fight for the fans to watch,” he says. “It will be a test of wills. Beterbiev has great timing and I think he will do really well in the middle rounds.” But can he sustain it? Hunter is non-committal.

It’s an awkward question, but we had to ask it: Does Michael Hunter believe that the circumstances of his father’s death were accurately reported by the media? Mike Hunter was reportedly shot after hitting one of the officers over the head with a fake handgun.

“We’ll never know what really happened,” he says, noting that there were no witnesses. “The police may have drawn their guns a little too soon. There’s that tendency when they confront a black male they perceive to be a threat.” He says this matter-of-factly, without raising his voice, while acknowledging that the father he lost when he was seventeen years old, the man whose memory he cherishes, had personal demons and fell prey to drugs.

Michael Hunter has a younger brother who may get there ahead of him in the race to fight for a world title. Keith Hunter, a 27-year-old welterweight, is 11-0. The brothers, who train in the same Las Vegas gym, are both “The Bounty” Hunters. Like father, like sons.

Sergey Kuzmin, Michael Hunter’s opponent on Sept. 13, hails from St. Petersburg, Russia, and, like Hunter, had a wealth of amateur experience. Kuzmin is 15-0 (11 KOs) with 1 no-decision, that coming in a match with Amir Mansour that was stopped in the third round when both suffered severe cuts following an accidental clash of heads. In his most recent fight, Kuzmin scored a majority decision over rugged Joey Dawejko.

The oddsmakers have chalked Hunter (17-1, 12 KOs) the favorite, but the odds are short, seemingly portending a very competitive fight. As always, Michael will feel his father’s presence as he enters the ring. And whatever the outcome, he has the satisfaction of knowing that his father would be very proud of him.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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