By Lem Satterfield
Michael “The Bounty” Hunter has become a giant killer in the four bouts since he's entered the heavyweight division in April, with Saturday’s ninth-round TKO of 6-foot-7 ½, 279-pound Alexander Ustinov validating his belief that “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
The 30-year-old Hunter (16-1, 11 KOs) was out-weighed by 66 pounds and yielded 5 ½-inch height (both carreer highs) to the 41-year-old Ustinov, who was trained by former champion Julian Jackson and floored once each in the final two rounds at Casino de Monte Carlo Salle Medecin in Monte Carlo.
Hunter stands 6-foot-2, weighed 213 ¾ pounds. He accepted the fight on two weeks notice – just 43 days removed from his previous victory.
“I literally believe that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and not just in the physical sense, but mentally. Their energy and resolve starts to crumble once they face adversity. In this case, my jab forced [Ustinov] to slip toward my left hand on his right side, so I started throwing the left hook, and he never adjusted,” said Hunter on Sunday from Monaco to BoxingScene.com.
“I was able to do some quick step-ins thanks to my footwork. I stunned him with a left hook, then I think it was the right hand that put him down the first time. I had hurt him a few times, previously, but hadn’t dropped him yet. But after being dropped, I knew he was done even though he made it through the round. So the next round, I jumped on him and finished him off with another combination.”
Hunter’s trainer is former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, who was a 20-to-1 underdog entering his upset fifth round to knock out champion Lennox Lewis in Brakpan, South Africa in 2001, which still ranks among the greatest upsets in heavyweight boxing history.
“We’ve been close for quite some time, now," said Hunter. "He’s like a father figure. Its been great to have somebody with his experience."
Hunter expressed interest in 6-foot-6 IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO champion Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), and will be ringside on Saturday at The Staples Center in Los Angeles as 6-foot-7 Deontay “Bronze Bomber” Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) pursues his eighth straight knockout in as many WBC title defenses against lineal champion Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) of England on Showtime Pay-Per-View.
Hunter will also be watching on television from Las Vegas home on December 22 as 2012 Olympic teammate and WBC mandatory challenger Dominic “Trouble” Breazeale (19-1, 17 KOs) fights Puerto Rican Olympian Carlos Negron (20-1, 16 KOs) in the opening bout of a PBC on FOX event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Also on December 22, title challenger Dillian Whyte (24-1, 17 KOs) meets Dereck Chisora (29-8, 21 KOs) at the O2 Arena in London.
"I definitely think that I've put people on notice that I'm a legitimate threat as a heavyweight," said Hunter. "Of course, everybody wants Joshua, and I think I've inched closer. I think that people like Joshua and others were watching me."
The triumph marked Hunter’s fourth straight win and third consecutive knockout since rising to heavyweight after losing a unanimous decision to IBF/WBA/WBC/ WBO Ukrainian cruiserweight titleholder Oleksandr Usyk (16-0, 11 KOs) in April 2017.
Hunter would like another crack at Usyk, who was last in action on November 10 when he trailed on two of the three judges’ cards before dropping and stopping former titleholder Tony Bellew for an eighth-round TKO.
Usyk made his sixth defense against Bellew (30-3-1, 20 KOs), who was coming off back-to-back 11th- and fifth-round stoppages of former heavyweight titleholder David Haye in March and May.
“I learned a lot against Usyk, but I was coming off a period of inactivity before that fight,” said Hunter, whose previous win before Usyk was a unanimous decision over Isaiah Thomas in May 2016.
“I know Usyk’s probably going to move up to heavyweight, so I’d like to someday get another fight with him. I definitely think I can beat Usyk either as a cruiserweight or as a heavyweight.”
Ustinov was coming off a unanimous decision loss to title challenger Manuel Charr in November 2017, and was stopped for the second time since an 11th-round knockout loss to title challenger Kubrat Pulev in September 2012.
Last month, Hunter traveled to London, where he overcame being out-weighed by 43 pounds as well as a four-inch height advantage for a 10th-round TKO of 6-foot-6, 256-pound Martin Bakole (11-1, 8 KOs).
Hunter has also beaten heavyweights Terrell Jamal Woods (250 pounds) and Iago Kiladze by unanimous decision and fifth-round KO in April and June.
“My mobility and my jab are really key for me as in most fights. You’ve got this little guy who is continually attacking you at a faster pace," said Hunter.
"After a while, they don’t know what punch to throw or when to throw it. I’ve always been dangerous in any division," said Hunter. "It’s just that right now I’m getting the opportunity to showcase my skills."