It has taken a long time for Michael Hunter to get where he is and having finally earned his dues as a heavyweight, he is not about to let anyone sell him short now.
Hunter is still talked of as a young prospect, but in reality, he is 31. Yet after being widely written off after an unsuccessful shot at Oleksandr Usyk for the WBO cruiserweight title in 2017, he has made dramatic strides up the heavyweight rankings in the past 14 months.
On Saturday, Hunter faces former WBA heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, on the undercard of the heavyweight clash between Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua. A win over Povetkin and Hunter will be in line to face the winner.
“It has been a long, long road,” Hunter said. “I started my career at heavyweight and came down to explore new waters, but I am a heavyweight again now and I’m not going anywhere.
“Any heavyweight that is at the top level knows who Michael Hunter is and have a lot of respect for me.”
It wasn’t always like that. After making no impact at the 2012 Olympics in London, Hunter did not get much attention when he turned professional. After trying his hand a cruiserweight, he felt more comfortable in the bigger division.
The breakthrough came 14 months ago, when he got the call to face Martin Bakole, in what was supposed to be a big night for Bakole. Instead Hunter stopped the Scotland-based Congolese, starting a string of wins that then saw him beat Alexander Ustinov, Fabio Maldonado and the unbeaten Russia Sergey Kuzmin.
“Martin Bakole and their team didn’t know who I was,” Hunter said. “They looked over me and didn’t put any respect on my name, so I had to do it myself. After I got the victory, things started to look up. I got the opportunity with Matchroom, fought Ustinov and fought at my best, despite it being at short notice. It’s going up and up.”
Hunter has a lifetime in the sport, though. His father was Mike “The Bounty” Hunter, who died when young Michael was a teenager. As an amateur he went far and wide to learn his trade, including Austria, where he was invited to Wladimir Klitschko’s training camp in the Alps.
“That was such a beautiful camp to learn, see and have such a high-class experience,” Hunter said. “It gave me a better idea of who I am. The way Wladimir conducted himself in camp, he said ‘hi’ to every one of us and then it was straight to business.
“The way he conducted himself in and out of the gym was a great lesson to me as a young up and coming fighter. It is something I will never forget.”
Hunter is being trained by former world heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman, a family friend who first answered a call to help ahead of the Bakole fight.
“We are like family,” Hunter said. “We are all from Vegas, I had been to his house, he had been at my house. It was very easy to get with Rock. I didn’t have anyone to work my corner for the Bakole fight, so I asked him to help me out.
“It fit perfectly well for Rock to come along and it has been growing ever since. It helped show me what I had been missing before.”
Hunter is a similar size to Povetkin but feels his cruiserweight experience may come in handy as the Russian is generally used to fighting bigger men.
“Guys often don’t like to fight smaller guys if they have been fighting big guys and that is kind of like me with Povetkin,” he said. “It really excites me. I am usually the boxer no matter what, but I think being smaller than some of the guys he has been fighting might be something he doesn’t like.”
Hunter arrived at this week’s press conference with a custom-made jacket, complete with Michael “The Bounty” Hunter emblazoned on the back, a tribute to his late father.
“He started this whole journey and it has been a long walk,” Hunter said. “He is definitely with me and I inherited the name. It is something special that I hold in my heart. I always wonder what he would say if he was here for just one day. I’ve overcome a lot of feats that he didn’t even get to attempt.”