‘Bounty Hunter’s’ son one of 11 Beijing hopefuls
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON – Michael Hunter never steps into the ring without the T-shirt.
On the back is an airbrushed portrait of his father, a former heavyweight boxer also named Michael Hunter. Across the front, the shirt reads, “MAKE THAT MAN PROUD. RIP.”
The 19-year-old Hunter won the super heavyweight division at the U.S. Olympic boxing trials this weekend. He now has a chance to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics if he performs well enough at the World Championships or at a continental qualifier.
He only wishes his father could’ve been there to see it.
“He’s always on my mind,” said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Hunter. “He’s the reason I started boxing.”
The elder Hunter, nicknamed “The Bounty,” fought in the 1980s and ’90s and was once managed by actor James Caan. He scored a few notable wins, but his career fell apart after he tested positive for cocaine following a win over Buster Mathis Jr. in 1993.
He had started teaching and training boxers in Los Angeles before he was shot and killed in February 2006 in a bizarre altercation with two police officers on a hotel roof. Before he was shot, police say Hunter struck one of the officers in the head with a gun that turned out to be fake.
His son has dealt with the grief and moved on. The only memories he keeps now are the good ones.
“He was a real people person. People liked him,” Hunter said. “He’d always mess with the little kids at the gym: ‘Come on, let’s spar.’ He was always joking around.”
Hunter won the under-19 national championship just seven months after his father died. He won this year’s U.S. championship before beating Kimdo Bethel on Saturday at the trials.
He used to dream about having his father coaching from ringside in Beijing. He won’t be there, but Hunter will feel his presence.
“That still drives me. He’s still sitting on my shoulder, always looking down at me,” Hunter said. “Some people just dream about fighting in the Olympics. That was one of my dreams. But the main one was to get there and just do good and have my daddy in the corner.”
Hunter was one of eight boxers to win at the Olympic trials on Saturday night. The others included Luis Yanez (106 pounds), Rau’shee Warren (112), Sadam Ali (132), Javier Molina (141), Demetrius Andrade (152), Shawn Estrada (165), Christopher Downs (178) and Deontay Wilder (201).
Gary Russell Jr. (119 pounds) and Raynell Williams (125) added victories on Sunday.
Russell beat Roberto Marroquin 18-14. The 19-year-old Russell, of Capitol Heights, Md., pounded Marroquin with a flurry of punches in the opening seconds of the match and never lost control. In the third round, Russell sent Marroquin into the ropes with a hard right, then landed two quick lefts to take a 16-9 lead into the final round.
Marroquin chased Russell in the final round, but couldn’t land enough punches to make up the deficit.
“The key was to get up early on points,” Russell said. “I knew I was up and I knew he had to come at me.”
In the second fight, Raynell Williams defeated Hylon Williams (no relation). Raynell Williams built a 10-point lead in the first two rounds, then hung on as Hylon Williams tried to rally back and earned a 24-22 victory.
Both sets of fighters were meeting for the third time this week.
On Saturday night, Russell beat Marroquin 25-13 to avenge a first-round loss on Monday that dropped him into the consolation bracket.
“I lost my first night and had to box my way out,” said Russell, a bronze medalist at the 2005 world championships. “That’s where champions come from.”
Raynell Williams edged Hylon Williams 17-16 on Wednesday, but lost the second meeting 20-16 to force Sunday’s rubber match.
“It was a hard road to get here,” said Raynell Williams, who won the U.S. championship in June. “When I lost (on Saturday), I was really mad, but I didn’t let it get to me.”
The trials winners now have three chances to earn a spot in Beijing.
The World Championships will be held in Chicago on Oct. 23-Nov. 3. The top eight finishers in the light flyweight (106 pounds) to light heavyweight (178) divisions and the top four from the heavyweight and super heavyweight classes will qualify for the Olympics.
There will also be two continental qualifiers in early 2008 at sites to be determined.