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

Arne K. Lang

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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.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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Ed Odeven’s New Book Pays Homage to Sports Journalist Jerry Izenberg

Rick Assad

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It’s one thing to get to the top, but it’s something else entirely to remain there for more than half a century. Jerry Izenberg, longtime sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, now semi-retired and living in Henderson, Nevada, has done just that.

Izenberg is the subject of Ed Odeven’s book, “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg,” which was released New Year’s Eve and is available at amazon.com.

“By all accounts, he should be recognized as one of the greatest American sports columnists,” said Odeven, a 1999 graduate of Arizona State University who has lived in Japan since July 2006 and is the sports editor for the website Japan Forward. “A versatile professional, he was equally skilled at writing books and magazine articles and producing sports documentaries and crafting essays for the groundbreaking ‘Sports Extra’ television program on Channel 5 in New York in the 1970s.”

Odeven went on: “Jerry has seen everything and been seemingly everywhere. He brought gravitas to the newspaper sports section with decades of sustained excellence.”

During a seven-decade career in sports journalism, the 90-year-old Izenberg, found time to write 15 non-fiction books and one novel. His affinity for the manly sport is reflected in his 2017 book, “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing.”

“From the 1950s to the present day [including recent years’ coverage of Tyson Fury and Manny Pacquiao, for instance, Izenberg has shined in his boxing coverage,” Odeven said. “You can’t ignore his remembrance pieces on fighters and boxing personalities across the decades [such as a terrific column on the late Leon Spinks in which he weaved a tapestry of the fighter’s life and his family’s struggles into a powerful piece], either.”

One of Izenberg’s favorite topics is Muhammad Ali.

“Izenberg first observed the great fighter’s infectious personality, popularity and boxing talent on display at the 1960 Rome Olympics,” Odeven said. “Cassius Clay was unlike any other famous pugilist in those days and for the rest of his life.”

Odeven spoke about the support Ali received from Izenberg: “When very few were publicly taking a stand to support Ali, Izenberg wrote columns that defended his right to fight. He took the boxing establishment to task for stripping Ali of his titles even while Ali’s case was making its way through the courts – and ultimately the United States Supreme Court.”

Izenberg, a graduate of Rutgers University who covered the first 53 Super Bowls, and Ali were close. “As friends, they were around each other in all corners of the earth,” Odeven said. “They shared highs and lows during periods of personal and professional success and disappointment.”

Here’s Jerry Izenberg talking about Ali’s humanity: “I was a single father and when my children came to live with me, they were very nervous. I took them to Deer Lake [Pennsylvania] for a television show I was filming as an advance to the Foreman-Ali fight. After the filming, knowing my situation, (Ali) took my son aside and put his arm around him and said, “Robert, you have come to live with a great man. Listen to him and you will grow to be a great man just like him.

“On the way up my daughter, who was seven, had said, ‘I hope Foreman beats him up because he brags too much and you always told me to not brag.’ “I told her, ‘you are seven and you have nothing to brag about. Both of these men are my friends. When you get there, keep your mouth shut.’ When we were packing up the equipment, he saw her in the back of the room and hollered, ‘come up here little girl. You with the braids.’ She was convinced I had ratted her out about what she said and tried her best to melt into the wall because she was frightened. As she walked toward him, she lost the power of speech and mumbled. He was 6-3 and she was 4-5. He grabbed her and held her over his head. ‘Is that man your daddy?’ All she could do was nod. ‘Don’t you lie to me little girl, look at him,’ and he pointed at me. ‘That man is ugly…ugly. You are beautiful, now gimme a kiss.’ On the way home she said, ‘I hope Muhammad can win,’ and I said, ‘you are just like the rest of them. The only difference is your age.’ He was one of my five best friends. When he died, I cried.”

Odeven offered his slant on why Izenberg was at home at major boxing events: “It was clear that Jerry was in a comfort zone on the week of a big fight, writing the stories that set the stage for the mano a mano encounter and the follow-up commentary that defined what happened and what it meant.”

Izenberg, noted Odeven, had worked under the legendary Stanley Woodward, as had Red Smith and Roger Kahn, among others, the latter most well-known for having penned the baseball classic, “The Boys Of Summer.” Many insist that Woodward, who read the classics, was the greatest sports editor.

Woodward, Odenven believes, helped shape Izenberg’s world outlook. “Izenberg became keenly aware of this human drama at its rawest form that existed in boxing,” he said, noting that in decades past the public was captivated by the big fights. “Examples, of course, include the first and third Ali-Frazier bouts and The Rumble In The Jungle [against Foreman]. Let’s not forget they were cultural touchstones.”

Referencing the third installment of Ali-Frazier in Manila, Izenberg said, “I’ve probably seen thousands of fights, but I never saw one when both fighters were exhausted and just wouldn’t quit…My scorecard had Ali ahead by one which meant if Joe knocked him down in the 15th, he would have won on my card. But there was no 15th because Joe’s trainer, Eddie Futch, ordered the gloves cut off after the 14th.

“At the finish, Ali collapsed. Later as Ali walked slowly up the aisle supported by his seconds, he leaned over toward the New York Times’ Dave Anderson and me and said through puffy lips, ‘Fellas. That’s the closest you will ever see to death.’”

Izenberg remembered his lead: “Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did not fight for the WBC heavyweight title last night,” he wrote. “They did not fight for the heavyweight championship of the planet. They could have fought in a telephone booth on a melting ice flow. They were fighting for the championship of each other and for me that still isn’t settled.”

What makes Izenberg relevant even today? “His canvas was the global sports landscape and he explored the human condition in each of his columns in some way,” Odeven stated. “He recognized what made a good story and sought out individuals and topics that fit that description – and he still does.

“You could read a random stack of columns about any number of topics from the 1960s or ’90s and be enlightened and entertained at the same time…He has always had a razor- sharp eye for details that illuminate a column and a source’s words to give it added verve.” Moreover, added Odeven, Izenberg had a never-wavering commitment to championing a just cause: “Speaking out against racism and religious bigotry, he gave a voice to the voiceless or those often ignored.”

Note: Jerry Izenberg was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category in 2015.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

In the age of Covid-19 fights get canceled and re-arranged and that’s found here in this second attempt to stage Serhii Bohachuk versus Brandon Adams in a super welterweight showdown.

This pairing was first talked about back when the Dodgers and Lakers both won world championships last October. Finally, it’s ready to cast off.

Beautiful Puerto Rico will be the locale for Bohachuk (18-0, 18 KOs) when he meets Adams (22-3, 14 KOs) on Thursday March 4, at Felix Pintor Gym in Guaynabo. NBC Sports Network will televise the Ring City USA fight card.

“Flaco” Bohachuk has rampaged through the super welterweight division like a ravenous Ukrainian version of Pacman. Who can stop him?

Adams has fought the better competition including a world title match against Jermall Charlo that he lost by decision less than two years ago.

Other factors exist.

Bohachuk was formally trained by Abel Sanchez in Big Bear Mountain but now works with Manny Robles at sea level. Will it make a difference when he trades blows against the smaller but seemingly stronger Adams?

“We’re taking this fight seriously against Adams,” said Robles who has trained numerous world champions including Oscar Valdez and Andy Ruiz. “Adams is a very strong fighter.”

Bohachuk last fought deep in the heart of Mexico and emerged with a stoppage that saw him scrap with little-known but tough-as-nails Alejandro Davila. Both landed serious stuff but Bohachuk just had more firepower.

Adams says he has seen firepower like Bohachuk’s before. He went toe-to-toe with Charlo for the WBC middleweight title and never touched the canvas. He’s smaller but more muscular and has fought taller guys most of his career.

This is one of those fights that used to be held at the Olympic Auditorium back in the day. Ironically, there is a documentary that has just been released about those days before it was closed to boxing in 2005.

Added note: Fernando Vargas Jr. will also engage on the fight card. The son of “El Feroz,” Fernando Vargas Jr. fights out of Las Vegas and will be in his second pro fight as a super middleweight.

Women’s pay-per-view

An all-women fight card led by Claressa Shields takes place on Friday March 5. It will be streamed by FITE.tv beginning at 6 p.m. PT. Price is $29.99.

Shields (10-0) faces her toughest foe yet when she steps in the boxing ring against Canada’s undefeated Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0) for the undisputed super welterweight world championship.

Dicaire is a tall southpaw with speed and agility who has defeated several world champions.

Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed middleweight world champion and super middleweight titlist who dropped down two weight divisions to pursue this venture.

Also, just added is Marlen Esparza, a USA Olympic bronze medalist, and current flyweight contender.

Esparza (8-1) agreed to fight on the pay-per-view card and meets Shelly Barnett (4-3-2) in a six-round bout set for the super flyweight division. Her last fight took place in October and she handed talented Sulem Urbina her first loss as a pro.

Barnett is a Canadian veteran of nine pro fights including an eight-round battle with Florida’s Rosalinda Rodriguez.

Rumor has it that Esparza is getting prepared for a showdown with Mexico’s Ibeth “La Roca” Zamora for the WBC flyweight world title later in the spring.

It’s a pretty good pay-per-view card that also features Danielle Perkins, Logan Holler and Jamie Mitchell in competitive fights. If you haven’t seen women fights, take a look. Shields alone can astonish with her fighting skills.

Canelo

That redhead from Mexico continues to decimate the competition whether its from England, Turkey or Russia. Line them up and let them fly.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez holds the WBA and WBC super middleweight world titles and was forced to fight the number one contender Avni Yildirim and promptly stomped him out like a bug on the rug.

Fans get upset. They don’t understand that ratings exist and with four or five sanctioning organizations all having different standings, a fighter like Alvarez who has two titles is forced to fight fighters ranked number one through 10. But it’s just a part of boxing that has to be done.

Alvarez had already skipped Yildirim before to fight Callum Smith for the WBA title which he won by unanimous decision. Now he will be meeting another Brit in Billy Joe Saunders who has the WBO version of the super middleweight title. It will take place on May 8, most likely in Las Vegas. That’s Cinco de Mayo weekend. Las Vegas needs the bank. Once again it depends on the Covid-19 situation.

Off topic, Canelo recently had an exchange with Claressa Shields who posted on social media that the Mexican redhead is one of her favorite fighters. She likes working on technique and posted one of her workouts where she is hitting a heavy bag with a combination that she saw Canelo use.

Canelo saw it and gave her a few tips. Champion to champion. That was kind of cool.

Farewell to L.A. Favorite

Featherweight contender Danny Valdez passed away on Sunday February 28 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Valdez held the California Featherweight title when the state championship was not easy to gain. He also vied for the world title against Davey Moore in April 1961 in Los Angeles.

Many of his battles took place at the vaunted Olympic Auditorium where he fought the likes of Gil Cadilli and Sugar Ramos. Back in those days there was no better place to fight than the Olympic. But Valdez did engage in battles at Wrigley Field and the Hollywood Legion Stadium too.

Though Valdez fought up and down the West Coast in Oregon and California, he primarily battled at the Olympic Auditorium, a total of 24 times in all. If you ever watched a boxing card at the Olympic, it was a magical place.

Fights to Watch

(All Times are Pacific Time)

Thurs. 6 p.m. NBC Sports Network Serhii Bohachuk (18-0) vs Brandon Adams (22-3)

Fri. 6 p.m. FITE.tv.  Claressa Shields (10-0) vs Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0); Marlen Esparza (8-1) vs Shelly Barnett (4-3-2); Logan Holler (9-0-1) vs Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2); Danielle Perkins (2-0) vs Monika Harrison (2-1-1); Jamie Mitchell (5-0-2) vs Noemi Bosques (12-15-3).

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