'Eventually, I was gonna overtake the whole situation' Michael Hunter Discusses Split With Matchroom
Michael Hunter is one of the worlds most renowned Heavyweights. A 220lbs wildcard fighter with rhythm and respectable power. It's easy to see why Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing placed him on some valuable cards in the last 18 months.
However, following the peak of Covid-19, Matchroom have revisited their strategy and have decided to cut ties with Hunter, a bewildering decision giving the fact the Las Vegas fighter has just came off a highly entertaining draw with former WBA king Alexander Povetkin, a fight in which most think Hunter did enough to get the nod.
I caught up with Michael via telephone where he assured me himself and his family have been taking great care his family are fit and well despite COVID-19.
"Fortunately, I have a very healthy family and I'm physically healthy, we as a family are very conscious about the current situation". A relieving statement however he did express his worries in relation to mental health and how this may have an even bigger effect than physical health "I find it very unfortunate that a lot of people have been mentally affected, I think that's the worst thing, not only the physical damage but what its done to us mentally. I think this is a wake-up call for us to take a look at ourselves and see what we can do better".
Hunter who has been keeping busy in the gym confirmed that he has used this time to undergo some much needed rehabilitation of his left shoulder which has not been 100% in recent times "I've been in the gym but I haven't been hitting much due to carrying an injury the last three or four fights. I've just been staying in good shape. I could probably hit something but its best that I don't at the moment. Its a slow process but I suppose COVID-19 has been a bit of a benefit when it comes to that".
From my own personal experiences, I was very interested to hear about Hunters amateur career, something he confirmed he's not asked about often strangely enough. It's well known Hunter fought some of the very best in the world as an amateur, Tyson Fury, Artur Beterbiev and Andy Ruiz Jnr included. We spoke about the best he has fought focusing a lot on these three fights in particular as all three have gone on to fight at the pinnacle of professional boxing."
That's a very good question, I didn't lose too much in the amateurs. I lost on a double tie-breaker to Artur Beterbiev. The fight ended 10-10. I won the first two rounds and lost the last round which somehow made it a draw. I stopped Andy Ruiz. Tyson Fury wasn't an easy task (Fury won on points) but I felt like I did enough to a point where we both knew who was better. He was supposed to fight me again but he refused. It wasn't easy but I felt I won the fight unanimously".
When pushing Hunter to say who was the best he'd encountered in the unpaid ranks, he gave me the first name of a Ukrainian fighter who fought out of Chicago, Jacob (surname) but couldn't recall the surname of the fighter who he doesn't believe ever went into the paid ranks.
That conversation led onto discussing some of Michael's favourite fighters "My favourite is my dad, I'm biased! Other than that I have a lot of other favourites. Roy Jones is one of my favourites along with James Toney. Mike McCallum also, he's one of the most underrated fighters that there's ever been. I mean he made it in boxing and I still feel he's underrated, so that will let you know right there how great I thought he was. Even Roy Jones couldn't stop him when he was passed his prime and he was old".
At this point, my pre-interview nerves had disappeared and it was now just like talking to an old friend. I was so interested in what Michael had to say, the conversation just took a smooth flow. I asked Michael about the Pro ranks so far and who he deems to be his toughest assignment to date. "Uhm, myself.
That's the only person I ever fought". A great answer and one that I didn't expect. I was convinced Michael was going to say Oleksandr Usyk, but I was wrong - I pointed this out to him which seemed to light a fire in his belly. "Let me tell you this, I feel like the next time we get in there I'm gonna stop Usyk. I'm gonna smash him. He got away from me in the Olympics. I've watched him even change his temperament. I first met him when I fought the same day as Gary Russell and Lomachenko. I met him when he was on the other side of a gate at the pool. I walked up to him because I respected him, he'd just won the gold medal.
When I walked up he just gave me a mad face. I tried to respect him and he just dogged me out. Then we fought (in the pros), so I actually owe him something and I'm gonna give it to him, I promise you that". I brought up the mind games that Usyk seems to have mastered against the likes of Murat Gassiev & Tony Bellew to get Michael's thoughts on. "That's what he appears to be like, he wasn't playing mind games the day I met him, he felt threatened. I knew from that moment that I'm going to get him. I saw his energy change. My energy doesn't change from then till now and I saw his change. That's the difference"
I was curious to get Hunters thoughts on the upcoming fight between two of his former foes Martin Bakole and Sergey Kuzmin which takes place as part of Matchroom's "Fight Camp" on August 22nd.
"I give the edge to Martin but its very hard because Kuzmin has the experience. I really think Kuzmin has a chance. You know what, I'm gonna say a draw. I give the edge to Bakole but if I was a betting man I'm gonna say a draw" At this point, I was really interested to find out why there is such a hype around Bakole from his trainer Billy Nelson and see if Hunter could maybe give me a bit of insight due to being the only man to beat Bakole. "He's gonna cause a lot of people problems. Me and my team actually spoke about this. They said I wasn't going to get any credit for Martin Bakole until he becomes who he becomes because I derailed the situation. Martin Bakole is a good fighter, I think he can and will be a world title contender soon. Will he win? That's up to him. I do feel though that he does pose a lot of threats. There is obviously some things he doesn't do well but he's a durable person, he has long arms."
Having fought in the UK as an amateur & as a pro, I wanted to ask Michael's opinion on unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua and how close he came to replacing Jarrell Miller last year in New York. "They called me and knew I would take the fight then put me on the back burner.
It's like they picked me but put me to the side to see if they could get anyone else. Andy Ruiz just fit the bill. He had a big Mexican fan base, he is on the bigger side like Jarrell Miller and throws bombs". I was also interested to get his thoughts on the eagerly anticipated undisputed clash between Fury and Joshua that is in the plans to be staged next year. "I think Fury will win via decision. It might not be easy. I think he will have a harder time than he did with Deontay. I think he will get hit more. It will be a little more strategic"
We discussed the big talking points around his career at the moment. I asked has he spoken to any other promotional stables and when can we expect to see him back in the ring. "I've had a few different offers. I live in Vegas and Top Rank is right down the street. I know Top Rank would love another American heavyweight considering they don't currently have one. My Dad was with Top Rank, I know they are very interested. That's always an option and a very great option. Not my first option but its definitely up there. I have a handful of opportunities that I'm exploring but you know I just want to make the next step really count. Ive been through this cycle before. Being in the world top 10 coming in, I know I have a lot of opportunities but I want to take my time."
With ESBR HQ being UK based I was interested to see if there has been any contact from Frank Warren as this may be appetising with the Tyson Fury links and whether Michael would consider being based in the UK. "I actually did hear something from them. I'm talking to Frank Warren about what they can offer. I like what Frank Warren has done with a lot of his fighters too. Carl Frampton, Billy Joe and obviously Tyson Fury. Tyson kind of sells himself but he was with Frank Warren so you still have to give him some type of credit, Frank Warren is definitely an option"
To round off the interview, I felt that I couldn't let Michael go without asking for a bit more detail on the release of his professional contract from Matchroom. "I just think it was the fact he has Anthony Joshua and I am like Anthony Joshua but not Anthony Joshua. I didn't grow up under him, I'm not British. I have my own energy. Eventually, I was gonna overtake the whole situation and be a hard person to deal with in that matter I guess. I think the whole COVID thing played a part and they had to cut down too".
Finally, I asked Michael about his career decision and where he sees himself at the end of 2021? "All this stuff that's going on luckily I have some time to think and I don't have to rush. Right now this is what I call the underdogs playing field. We are still the underdogs but this is the highest opportunity and possibility that we have to make something happen. We don't need a big crowd. In regards to the end of 2021, I just want to fight all over the world"