By Don Smith: A steady rain welcomed 2012 USA Boxing Olympian Michael Hunter when the 24 year old arrived on Saturday, January 26 in Phoenix, Arizona for a photo shoot at the Parasol Studio on Pierce Street.
After he shook the rain from his clothing and made himself comfortable, I told him he resembled Michael Strahan the former defensive end and now a successful talk show co-host with Kelly Ripa. "Oh yeah, I get that a lot" he said with a smile. In truth, he doesn’t look like Strahan who is 3 inches taller, 30 pounds heavier. Also, Strahan has a very noticeable space or gap between two upper teeth at the center of his smile. If you’re trying to do the math, Hunter stands 6’ 2" and boxes at 210. He admitted he needs to drop 10 to get there. Incidentally, the retired football player is 20 years older than Hunter. I told him, I was pulling his leg and he laughed and said he didn’t see the resemblance either. He did concede that he wouldn’t mind having the same kind of career success enjoyed by the older Michael.
Boxing wise, his fighting style has been compared to former Olympic Gold Medal Winner and World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. Michael said he is flattered by the compassion, but "there was only one Floyd Patterson". After watching Michael square off with numerous opponents on You Tube, the idea of him being a Patterson clone is quite a stretch. Hunter doesn’t deploy the "peek a boo tactics" made famous by Patterson in the 60’s. Hunter, a third generation boxer, is trained by Ken Croom aka KC. His gym of choice in Vegas is the Hit Factory, owned and managed by his uncle. Younger brother Keith (150 lbs) is one of his sparring partners.
Hunter,a two-time National Champion and Bronze Medalist at the 2006 Under 19 World Championships in Moscow, will make his professional debut March 9 at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix on the Iron Boy 6 boxing show. Iron Boy CEO Roberto Vargas and Matchmaker (Mike Sanchez) are still working on the March 9 card,but expect 3 female fights and Iron Boy favorites Carlos Castro, Victor Castro and slick Francisco C De Vaca (pro debut)to be included on the Marquee with Hunter. Vargas thinks he has a winner with Iron Boy # 6.
In December, 2012, Hunter signed with super sports agent JR Rickert who handles more than 100 professional athletes including WBO lightweight boxing champ Karim Mayfield and undefeated middleweight sensation J’Leon Love. According to Michael, Top Rank ad Golden Boy weren’t interested because he isn’t a big heavyweight and he didn’t medal in the 2012 London Olympics. He did beat two qualifiers, but fought to a 10-10 draw in his third bout. Judges went to the scorecard decided to raise the hand of his Russian opponent based on the tie breaker system mandated by Olympic rules.
During our conversation, he made it clear that he isn’t the stereotypical boxer as portrayed in movies and sometimes in real life. He has no tattoos and his only piercing was for a small earring that hangs from his left ear. Allegedly, he once wore a tongue ring,but I didn’t ask him to say ah, so I could check the veracity of the printed claim. Also, he didn’t drop one F bomb during our session and he was very respectful to him mother when she called; 15 minutes after we said hello. Honestly, I don’t think airport security has anything to worry about when this guy is in the airport or aboard a plane.
His gentle and polite demeanor is a testimonial to how he was raised. He lost his father (Michael "The Bounty" Hunter) in a bizarre 2006 incident at the St. Moritz Hotel in Los Angeles and his mother (Gwen) became a supermom during a time of horrific sorrow. Whenever he is asked who is the most influential person in his life, Michael, without hesitation, gives the honor to his mom. The only mention of his late father came when I revealed that I interviewed actor James Caan 20 years ago in Dallas Texas at the Fairmont Hotel. Caan, believe it or not, managed his Dad for 2-3 years until he decided to leave. Michael didn’t tell me that he had met Caan before the start of the London Olympics at which time the actor pledged his support to the young fighter. Caan was quite the character when I met him.
Hunter, born in Van Nuys California, was raised in Las Vegas where he attended Palo Verde High school and excelled in basketball and football. His round ball skills earned him a spot on a handpicked All Star team that was described as elite. After graduation, he was offered two full boxing scholarships at Nevada Colleges. He declined both offers. Michael’s one public sin was in 2011 when he tested positive for Marijuana, resulting in a three-month suspension that forced him to forfeit a Gold Medal he had won during the Olympic Trials. His inner circle was devastated and Michael knew he had disgraced himself and disappointed his loved ones.
He is very open with his opinion on the current status of the AIBA, USOC and USA Boxing. He thinks kids are being sacrificed at the expense of politics and neglect. He worries about injuries and broken dreams. He points to a high number of hand injuries as a problem that needs immediate attention. To illustrate, he spreads his hands apart and pretends to be holding a piece of tape." Now, he continues, how can you wrap a hand properly when you only have this much tape and you need this much" as he widens his hands as to demonstrate what the athlete has and what he or she needs to reach their goals.
The former amateur boxer admires Dr. Charles Butler, the current USA Boxing President, and says Dr. Butler has some innovative ideas, but doesn’t know if the appointed president has the time or the support to turn the organization around. Butler took over the reins of the organization after Hal Adonis made controversial remarks that led to his downfall and dismissal. Butler’s critics say he needs to face a democratic election before he can call himself the real president of USA Boxing.
It is time to turn the page on a celebrated amateur career that resulted in 112 victories with a mere 6 losses. His Olympic experience further enforced his deep conviction that there was a reason why his father and uncle pushed him to be the best he could be. A reminder to all aspiring athletes, champions are made not born.
On March 9, he begins a new personal boxing chapter. Call the Celebrity Theatre Box Office or go to Iron Boy Promotions website for ticket information and show updates. Ticket prices start at $25.00 and ringside seating is available.
Boxing Brief: Strong rumors indicate a match up between middleweight Sergio Mora (23-3-2) and much maligned Jesus "El Martillo" Gonzalez (27-2) could happen in Phoenix in April. The unofficial date bandied about is 4/19. Sergio told a couple of people in Vegas that he was down with dancing (so to speak) in the desert with the once feared "El Martillo".Gonzales hasn’t fought since hi dramatic KO loss to Adonis Stevenson in 2012. Mora is coming off a majority decision loss in August against Brian Vera for the vacant WBO/NABO Middleweight Title. An official announcement is expected soon. Venue is to be selected. The result of this fight should tell boxing fans where both men are in their careers. ESPN is interested in bringing it to the home screen.
Speed Bag: Joe Martell’s fight scheduled in New York is cancelled......Amateur Edgar Brito Jr. is on the March 9 Iron Boy 6 card against Jose Herra. Brito’s injured hand is healed and he is happy to announce the opening of the new and improved Brito’s Gym on 51st Avenue and Maryland on the Southeast corner. Edgar and his dad (Sr.) are equal partners until they disagree, just kidding!.....Flyweight Sulem Urbina Soto has been added to the Iron Boy 6 Card....Javier Loya is out of retirement and back in action. The gutsy light welterweight is taking on Issouf Kinda (15-0) in New York on 2/23......Tucson Arizona fighter Gabino Saenz (8-0-1) is fighting 2/16 or 2/23. Saenz is a promising super bantamweight on the rise....Handi Hernandez (5-5) has been added to the Iron Boy 6 card.
Boxing Tribute: Arizona boxing fans and art connoisseurs are excited upon hearing the news that "The Fighting Irishmen Exhibit is coming to the McCelland Library (housed inside he Irish Cultural Center Compound) in Phoenix, Arizona beginning with a glitzy and private viewing on 1/31/13 (Thursday) at 6 pm. The Fee for the opening reception is $100.00 for the general public and $50.00 for members of the Irish Cultural Center/McCelland Library. The Exhibit opens to the public February 1 and will run until 31. Hours for viewing: 10a.m. -3p.m Tuesday-Saturday, 10a.m.-7 p.m. on Wednesdays and 6-9 p.m., the first Friday of the month. Call 602-864-2351 for more details.
Muhammad Ali is expected to attend with his wife if his health permits. Exhibit Curator Jim Houlihan will join Arizona State Boxing Director Dennis O’Connell and Chairman,Founder Jimmy Walker (Celebrity Fight Night Foundation will acknowledge Ali and his wife. The Champ has a wee bit of Irish in him. His great grandfather grew up in Ennis Ireland , Phoenix’s sister city. Dubliners and mature fight fans around the world remember the Champs’ 1972 fight in the Capital City. Also attending the exhibit opening is Head Librarian extraordinaire Chas Moore and library founder Norman McCelland.
It should be a night to remember. I hear everyone is anyone in the Arizona Boxing Community has been invited to witness an extraordinary display of boxing artifacts and memorabilia. According to whispers, 5 time world champion Michael Carbajal, two time World Champion Louie Espinoza, USA Boxing Official Mike Sanchez, Iron Boy Promotions CEO Roberto Vargas, Arizona Golden Gloves CEO Kelly Fenn, boxing writers Norm Frauenheim and Ron Valderrama are among the many to receive a special invitation.
If you go, look for a fight poster featuring Jack Fennigan. As legend goes, Jack was a young Arizona fighter who had one problem; his mother. She didn’t want him to fight because she thought the sport wasn’t fit for civilized people to watch or participate in. She was also fearful that her son’s endorsement of the activity might cast a dark shadow over the family business.
So, Jack was in a pickle. He didn’t want to disobey his mother, but at the same time, he wanted to fight. Keep in mind, this was before the start of World War 11, a time when most (not all) children obeyed their parents. Jack wasn’t most children. He changed his name and began to fight in mostly small towns in Eastern Arizona. He lived in Safford, Arizona ; so he made sure he fought in neighboring Arizona towns and sometimes he would take a fight in New Mexico. Fighting in Safford was taboo.
Jack quit boxing after years and joined the United States Marine Corps and they were kind enough to let fight in Europe to defend our country from Harm’s way. I almost forgot, Jack’s boxing record was 21-1 with 17 knockouts when he retired from the ring. The rest of the story remains a secret.
One of the photos on display is a picture of Art Rooney when he boxed. Pittsburgh Steeler fans know the name Rooney real well. Boxing is something the Irish do real well with or without a pint of Guinness. Irish boxers picked up 4 medals in the 2012 London Olympics while the American contingent won 2 thanks to the women’s squad .Boxing fans Can go to the McCelland Library website and take a gander at some of the items on display,but it will be more fun to see them close up at the exhibit.Until Next Time
January 31, 2013