Michael Hunter is on Instagram live, showing his followers some of his favorite yoga poses, explaining that spinal health is crucial to aging gracefully.
It’s startling to see a 6’2”, 220-pound heavyweight boxer in camel or wheel pose, but nothing about Hunter tends to fall along the lines of normality within boxing. Long a proponent of yoga and spirituality, the 32-year old’s demeanor and approach to the sport are drastically different from the usual intensity and bombast that’s instilled in fighters.
For example, before his 2019 bout with Fabio Maldonado in Oxon Hill, MD, Hunter could be found reading and meditating by the Potomac River. Or, before walking to the ring to face Alexander Povetkin in Saudi Arabia, Hunter stood in a Predator mask while Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator played in full in the arena.
“That's where I've got my edge. I'm very mental when it comes to my sport, I've always taken it like I was getting a degree. I was like a scholar. I've noticed the best fighters do the least amount of fighting. And this is all from me watching and observing and my studies. Once you get to a certain level, you have to start thinking more passively,” said Hunter.
These days, Hunter has plenty of time to focus on studying and his own health. Since his November 2018 TKO win over Alexander Ustinov, he has been fighting with a torn rotator cuff, something he had kept private until now, as well as a nagging knee injury. While he credits his yoga practice with keeping him limber enough to fight through the nagging injuries, it was apparent to him that at a certain point, a break from hard training camps would be necessary to fully heal.
It just so happens that the universe has given him that chance, for better or for worse. Right before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hunter’s promotional contract with Matchroom USA expired, and was not renewed. Hunter says he has no ill will towards Matchroom or its home network DAZN, but that he felt like he wasn’t a priority for either entity.
“This is something I anticipated. I didn't want it, but I knew there was going to come a point where they would either have to embrace me or kick me out. I was kind of in that middle where they were kind of using me for hire,” said Hunter. “People would always ask me, why don't you fight (Filip) Hrgovic? We could have made that fight any time, we fought on the same card, but they chose not to because it wasn't a part of their project. But, they were very fair to me, so there's nothing bad I can say about the situation.”
Although he’s a consensus Top 10 heavyweight who no doubt is of theoretical interest to everyone, he is now a promotional free agent during a time when the purse strings are a little tighter within boxing promotions and networks, both literally and figuratively. Without a promoter, there is also no current return date for Hunter, despite his open challenges on Twitter to face or step in for any number of recognizable heavies. In the past few weeks alone, he’s either directly or broadly summoned Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz Jr., Martin Bakole and Charles Martin, but nothing has yet materialized.
So in the meantime, Hunter has used the time to build himself back to 100%. He managed to avoid surgery on his shoulder through water therapy and light therapy, and is in his words, now “building a foundation until we have a real live opponent and a date.”
“Holistic health, I talk about it often. It's building the foundation for when these things happen, you have a good sense of the truth that things in life have ebbs and flows. This is just part of what goes up must come down,” said Hunter. “To know these things and to have them installed in you internally is very beneficial. We tend to only look at physicality. We don't look at mental well-being or emotional well-being, but that's a part of health.”
Ironically, Hunter first discovered yoga through a fellow student at the Bones Adams Boxing Gym, who showed him how to do a headstand and explained their benefits. Many years later, a yoga program has launched at the gym, thanks in part to Hunter.
“I like to explore and practice, and it's helped me physically, but it's also helped me mentally, emotionally and energetically,” said Hunter. “A lot of people think yoga is about stretching. Really it's about being able to sit still for a long time. These are just methods and messages to help you holistically. People think when they hear yoga, they think bending and stretching, and that's really just one aspect, there are many other aspects to what they call yoga.”
During his downtime, Hunter has been able to fast-track a foundation he is launching with his brother Keith, which plans to use the principles of both yoga and boxing to aid members of the community.
“It's not just me. It's given me time to recharge, time to think, and time to slow down, which I think is good for the world,” said Hunter. “I've been in this situation a few times now in my pro career, it's like a cycle. But every cycle, I keep moving up in the rankings, gaining more credibility.”
For now, he must be at peace with simply being still.