“For the first time, I will be the A-side,” heavyweight Michael Hunter says of his upcoming June 19 fight on the Teofimo Lopez vs George Kambosos Jr Triller Fight Club pay-per-view in Miami.
It’s clear he’s not in a cocky place, feeling like because he’s paid his dues, he’s entitled to this supposed perk. Hunter, age 32, holds a 19-1-1 (13 KO) mark, the son of Mike “Bounty” Hunter, who was a fixture on Tuesday Night Fights, where he regularly surprised foes who assumed that because he had a pile of Ls that he’d be an easy out.
The younger Hunter filled Bad Left Hook in on the specifics of his resume. Hunter also shared on the multiple occasions when he’d butt up against some of those outside the ring aggravations that usually get chalked up to “boxing politics.”
It feels that Hunter is in a stable place as he prepares to meet 38-year-old Mike Wilson (21-1, 10 KO.
“Triller embraced me, I’m probably one of their only heavyweights,” Hunter said, sharing that he’s on a multi-fight deal with the upstart group after a stint with Matchroom. “It’s going to be a good platform, and I’ll be able to showcase my skills in a way I’ve dreamed about.”
The dream has been going on for a while. Hunter turned pro in 2013, and rose the cruiserweight ranks to where in 2017 he fought Oleksandr Usyk for the WBO cruiserweight strap. Hunter took on his first L against Usyk, but the appearance served to widen his profile.
Hunter is under no illusion about his role in that Usyk fight, he was the B-side, there to put up a fight, with all involved assuming he’d not get his hand raised.
“I found the fight, I needed the money, I was having a brand new baby, living a fighter’s life, I had to do things that were a little uncomfortable. I had to take a big leap. I wasn’t really ready, I hadn’t been in the ring in quite some time. I was with Al Haymon at the time, I hadn’t fought in over a year.
“Being with PBC there were so many other fights they wanted to put on. I was kind of being overlooked, they were running out of fights, then they signed the deal with FOX. The breakoff with PBC, they shipped me off, they wouldn’t let me fight Charles Martin, instead sent me to Usyk (on a Top Rank card).”
So he looked for the next most sensible option, content to an extent because he knew he tested a legit ace in Usyk more than most thought he would. But he’d gotten stuck with an L, so it was back to that “indie” sort of existence, and a move up to heavyweight in 2018, where he struggled a bit to find satisfying fights and paydays. Notable for Hunter was a 2018 bout in London with Martin Bakole.
“They didn’t pay me too well, so I bet half of my purse money on me. It would pay out $23,000 on a KO win,” Hunter said. “Was I worried that was too risky? I felt confident. Yeah, I knew I was pushing it, but I was all in.”
He chuckles as he admits he did allow the bet to creep into his head during the match. He’d contemplated betting on himself to win via stoppage in the first half of the fight. As the first half came and went, Hunter realized that it was a good thing a friend had advised him to make the KO bet less specific. In the 10th and final round, Hunter’s gas tank had enough fuel left for him to hurl flurries at a fatigued Bakole until the ref stepped in.
Following a win over Alexander Ustinov on a Matchroom card in Monte Carlo, where Hunter subbed in for Zhang Zhilei, he signed with Eddie Hearn’s stable on a three-fight deal.
“They had a hard time getting me fights,” Hunter says. “I didn’t realize the position I’d be in.”
After wins over Fabio Maldonado and Sergey Kuzmin, Hunter sort of got the drift then that he wasn’t becoming a Matchroom favorite, someone Hearn chose to nurture a bit more, give more time in helping plan a route to greater prominence and more bloated purses.
“I realized I was not being totally embraced, they were securing things somewhat for their favored guys,” Hunter says. The fighter knew enough to keep focused on things he could control.
You could wonder, maybe Hearn saw the attributes on display — how Hunter got his feet set, shortened up the hook and swept it hard and nasty on Kuzmin, to topple him? And maybe — this is conjecture — he thought if Hunter stayed in the Matchroom tent, he’d eventually get to Joshua, and enjoy some stylistic advantages?
The reward for the Kuzmin win came in the form of a bout with the veteran war horse Alexander Povetkin on the Ruiz-Joshua 2 card in Saudi Arabia.
“The Povetkin deal was set after I beat Kuzmin, they probably were thinking I’d lose,” he said. Povetkin, then 40, had beaten Hughie Fury after losing a title challenge to AJ at Wembley, and with his name recognition, he was the more highly regarded commodity of the two boxers.
“I feel like I was the best on that show,” says Hunter, who fought to a disputed draw with the Russian. “The plan was to keep growing my stock to where I’d fight one of the main guys at Matchroom, (Dillian) Whyte or AJ. But they weren’t ready to give me those fights. Why? It’s their stable, it’s all business. I was a fill-in for Eddie, I wasn’t embraced like that. I was used to fill in the spaces.”
His hopes did get up that he’d secure an AJ fight at one point in 2019, when Jarrell Miller was out against Joshua, before Andy Ruiz Jr came in.
“Everyone said no. Luis Ortiz, everyone had an excuse, but I said I’d fight AJ. I was the only one who put my hand out, really. But this is how bad they didn’t want me to fight AJ: They crossed the border,” Hunter said, referring to how Hearn dialed up Al Haymon and inquired about the services of Ruiz. “They like to do things in house, and that was a bit of a break from traditional business models.”
“There was no real communication,” he continued. “I didn’t have the best people communicating for me, I’ve separated from my management team at the time. And I got released (by Matchroom). I was a little mad. But I started thinking I’d go back to being totally indie, and that’s OK with me, because I knew I had options. I already knew I was a wild card.”
Hunter spoke with Top Rank, PBC again, MTK Global, and Queensberry. ”The words from the people we talked to, it was sounding like the same old record,” Hunter said.
It wasn’t foreign to him — his dad had lived the life, hearing promises, big talk, and then seeing sub-optimal followthrough. His mom’s grandfather, Norman Henry, did matchmaking and advising in the sport.
“I felt I was bigger than just being a roster addition,” Hunter says now.
To follow it all, 2020 was that shitty year from hell. Finally, near the end of the year, Hunter got a work date in December, meeting Shawn Laughery in a rust-shedder on a card in Texas promoted by Zurdo Ramirez, scoring a fourth round stoppage.
Hunter, now being coached by Bones Adams, is feeling good about the place he’s arrived. He’s rated No. 7 by the WBC, WBA, and WBO, while the IBF slots him at No. 11. He could have signed to fight Filip Hrgovic in an IBF eliminator, but declined after plenty of pondering.
“I’m trying to stay busy. I’m being patient, looking to make the right moves. It wasn’t easy to turn down the IBF thing. I’m familiar with them, my dad was an IBF fighter. But this is what is in my heart.”
So in less than two weeks, Hunter will be tangoing with Wilson, who he downed in 2007 in the amateurs, rather than Hrgovic. Hunter says there was heavy jostling before the purse bid for a Hrgovic-Hunter scrap.
Hearn was in the mix, the Wasserman bunch repping Hrgovic, and word was Triller would throw their cap into the ring.
“I didn’t want to fight in Croatia,” Hunter says. “So indirectly, this is the best deal Eddie Hearn ever got me!”
In April, Hearn announced he was delighted to have won the purse bid for the IBF eliminator, with the winner to get a crack at their title-holder, currently Anthony Joshua. Hunter didn’t share the delight, so when Triller came calling, and Peter Kahn laid out a pathway of possibilities, he didn’t need that long to say hell yes.
Triller acted like they see his worth now, and that his potential will be fulfilled. They invested in Hunter, basically, and he liked the financial part of the deal, as well as the vibe, how they seem aligned about his upside. “It ended up working out better in my favor,” he said.
So much happens behind boxing’s scenes, plans get hatched and prepped, and then fall through, so that theme is a constant to Hunter.
“This is the business of boxing the fans don’t really get to see. Me and Charles Martin were supposed to fight, but he pulled out,” Hunter said of the St. Louis native who is rated No. 2, by the IBF. “I think they were trying to get a Deontay Wilder fight.”
“I know Wilson. He was on the Matchroom card I fought Ustinov on. I was there to save the show, he was in the main event against Denis Lebedev. He was very well known in the amateurs, he was actually the man. I was a youngster coming up, he was national champ, he hadn’t lost.
“He’s like me, he has more fighting ability than the record indicates. Yeah, time takes a toll, he’s a little older, but still has good fundamentals. This is a little different for me, I haven’t really been the A-side on this stage. Overall, I’m going to work tooth and nail, because they’re not going to ever give me anything.”
There is a relaxed tone Hunter has as he talks about the showdown, which indicates he’s at peace with where his career prospects lie.
“OK, we don’t know what’s going to happen with Fury and Wilder and AJ, so it’s a great time to strengthen my case as the number one American heavyweight. Other than Deontay Wilder, yeah, that’s it. Last words, I say watch me on Triller.”
Hunter has a decent sense of humor, too, which is another part of a promotional building block of assets that could be the foundation in a campaign to grow his profile. After we shared notes on that April Triller show which featured Snoop Dogg’s blunt-a-thon laying down a haze of sweet smoke in the arena, Hunter replied, “I may come to the ring wearing a gas mask.”