Keith Hunter knows boxer-father Mike Hunter deserved more shine, fights for his proper due
The handler was on the line, and said, “Woods, I got Mike Hunter right here.”
I paused, and said, “Er, I’m talking to Mike Hunter….OR KEITH?”
“Keith, I meant,” the handler said, chuckling. “Here you go, Keith,” and he handed off the phone to the welterweight who will headline on Friday’s ShoBox, which unfolds on Showtime Friday night, from Las Vegas.
The Las Vegan Hunter is 27, owns an 11-0 record, and has 7 KOs on his resume. He does battle with 12-2-1 Sanjarbek Rakhmanov, a 30 year old Uzbeki, and these two are renewing their acquaintance. Hunter, nicknamed “The Bounty,” fought Rakhmanov in April 2019, and Keith won a split decision.
This time, Hunter (click for record) tells THE RING that he aims to make the outing conclusive, in his favor. “I predict I’m gonna get him out of there, for sure, get him out of there,” he stated. “I dropped him the first time we fought and I dropped him early. I didn’t get him out. I had unleaded gas in the tank, and this time it’s premium gas in the tank! All legal gas,” he added, with a chuckle.
OK, so about that name. Mike Hunter, or “Michael” Hunter, is a top ten heavyweight, and yes, he’s Keith’s older brother.
Michael Hunter is 31 years old, and owns an 18-1-1 record, since debuting in 2013. Lil bro debuted in 2015, and he shared with RING how and why boxing is in his blood.
Oh yes, also, he took no offense at being referred to as “Mike.”
“I’m not always in his shadow, but I get that a lot,” he said. “That’s my older brother, and he had to grow up really quick, at age 18, when our dad died. He always made sure he was kind of a father figure. Yeah, we bumped heads now and again, but that crossed over into the ring, he made sure I had a lot of toughness.”
Keith was 14 when his dad died. Some of you Gen X fight fans may well remember his dad, Mike “The Bounty” Hunter (26-7-2, debuted in 1985), who was a perennial presence on USA’s “Tuesday Night Fights.”
The cruiserweight/heavyweight fought a who’s who of big boys in his stint. Oliver McCall, Dwight Qawi, Pinklon Thomas, Frans Botha, Tyrell Biggs, Alex Zolkin, Buster Mathis Jr and he lost to Brian Neilsen in his last ring engagement.
It could be argued that had he been managed better, he would have been able to draw more fruits from his labors. An LA Weekly story from 2006, written after the ex pugilist was shot by an undercover cop, during an altercation in Los Angeles, quotes Mike’s trainer, Keith Henry.
“Mike was denied the chance to fight for the heavyweight title,” Henry said.
“He wasn’t with the right promoter. He was a contender for five years without getting a title shot. He did everything he could possibly do to get a title shot. He fought former world champions and beat them. He was never knocked out in his career. He was only knocked down once, and then he got up and knocked the guy out in the next round. Time went on and he wanted to do family things. He wanted to help kids do what he couldn’t do. He decided to give his career up and dedicate it to others.”
There isn’t much in the way of documentation about the Hunter brothers’ father’s sudden demise. The “LA Weekly” story says that Hunter encountered undercover cops at the St. Moritz Motel roof. “Two Hollywood Division officers had set up surveillance for a routine buy-bust operation at a Mobil Gas Station next door. LAPD spokesman Lieutenant Paul Vernon gives this account of what happened next: It was around 7 p.m. The 46-year-old Hunter came up from behind Officer Todd Ramsey, 41, who was busy talking on his cell phone. Without provocation, Hunter hit him on the head with a gun. Ramsey’s partner saw what happened and tackled the former boxer. The two cops and Hunter struggled. Hunter broke free, stepped back a few feet, and pointed his gun at Ramsey. Ramsey fired twice, hitting Hunter in the chest and arm. Hunter was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.”
So, to sum up, Hunter snuck up on a man on the roof, not knowing he was a cop. The man’s partner, also undercover, tackled Hunter, there was a struggle, and Hunter pointed a fake gun at the men. The partner shot and killed Hunter.
The LA Weekly story left out some context that, arguably, could have been included. In October of 1996, two LA cops entered the apartment of one Javier Ovando, and Ovando was shot in the back. He was paralyzed, and filed a lawsuit, winning $15 million for what was deemed police misconduct, after being sentenced to 23 years in prison. Cops had planted a gun on the scene, to implicate Ovando.
In court, the two cops perjured themselves. Wrong-doing by LA cops was now too prevalent in media for there not to be an investigation. Officer Rafael Perez not long after the Hunter roof-top situation cooperated in an investigation of police conduct. “Based upon Perez’s allegations of wrongful arrests, and investigations by the Task Force, nearly 100 more convictions were eventually overturned,” PBS’ Frontline reported. In 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice started a period of oversight of the L.A.P.D. for five years. The Justice Department had been investigating the L.A.P.D. since 1996 for excessive force violations. The “LA Weekly” story mentions the name of only one of the cops, Todd Ramsey, and the name of the other cop isn’t mentioned. Someone who happens upon the story could easily wonder how much more there is to it…
Back to the in the ring angle…Papa Hunter is not to be assessed by his record. He drew the eye of actor James Caan, for his charisma, and skills, and Caan managed him for a spell. They’d put Hunter in as a “tough but not too tough” foe for A side types who were on a comeback, often. Like Pinklon Thomas, after losses to Mike Tyson (in 1987) and Evander Holyfield (in 1988), he wanted a W to re-ascend.
Hunter didn’t cooperate in this 1990 clash, and giving up twenty pounds to Pink, he snagged a UD10 on USA.
Jimmy Thunder, on the come-up, 9-0, marvelous muscles, his people thought they’d get to 10-0 against 15-2-2 Hunter. Not so; in Thunder’s home turf of Melbourne, Hunter showed his sick chin, and ultra-chill manner, before a right-cross finisher planted Thunder on his face. Two good wins in 1990, some time off, then in against another A side, this time Frans Botha, 18-0 in 1992.
A majority decision was to be announced, and you saw Mike next to the ref, turning away. Plenty who saw it think Hunter deserved to be the first to besmirch Botha’s record. His reaction, it was like he was ready to hear bad news, he was a too regular recipient of it, knew it would be coming. Botha got the nod and Hunter turned away, as Al Albert said, “Francois Botha, even though he was down, gets the last laugh.”
In 1993, Hunter got a typical gig; Tyrell Biggs had lost to Mike Tyson, took some time off, then won six straight, seeking another run at the big time. On short notice, Hunter did his thing. Relaxed, boxing with flair and snap, he was announced as “the always ready Mike ‘The Bounty’ Hunter,” by Michael Buffer, on ESPN. He was more than “ready,” he was the better man, got the UD, easy-peasey, snagged the USBA title, and he deserved to be offered better gigs.
“I’m one of the best kept secrets in the world,” Hunter said post-fight, to Al Bernstein. Oh, and he did this on one days notice. It really shouldn’t have been a secret, his talent deserved to be recognized properly.
More so, maybe even, after besting 15-1 Alex Zolkin, on August 5, 1993. An upgraded opportunity wasn’t afforded to him, though. In his next outing, Nov. 6, 1993, at least he was was granted A side status, against Cecil Coffee, on a Cedric Kushner show in South Africa. Mike would do a thing, drop his hands, or put them behind his back, let a guy get free shots, he did that here against Coffee. This was his way of saying, man, I can do this in my sleep, this level of foe is too rudimentary for me, gimme someone in my league. Coffee wasn’t, Hunter got a wide UD. And his reward was another bout against an up ‘n comer expected to get the W.
Buster Mathis Jr entered 12-0, on Dec. 4, 1993, again on a Kushner card. Cedric would put up with the less structured types, people who beat to their own drum, and sometimes showed up without the sticks. Top Rank didn’t have to waste time and money and effort on such a specimen, while a Kushner level promoter almost needed to roll the dice on that sort of personality. Hunter versus Buster again showed his skills, and he snagged a split decision.
But here was a turning point; now 34, the fighter had the win struck from his record because a post-fight drug test showed the presence of a stimulant. This was the start of the end of the road as an active pugilist. The near burned out vet went 4-4 from then, and most of the bouts were of the “we need to fill up the card” variety.
For this piece, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity, how come Mike didn’t get that “reward” fight, why didn’t he go on a run that resulted in one of those fights that maybe smooths out the downs, and makes the toil more worth it. I messaged Bob Arum:
Hey Bob, did you guys work with Mike ‘The Bounty’ Hunter for his ’93 fight with Zolkin?
“Ask Trampler,” Arum answered.
“If you’re talking about the original “Bounty” Hunter, Mike was a good dude and tough guy who fought seven times for Top Rank and I was very fond of him personally. Not a bad ass, but a real man.,” recalled the Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler. “He came along in an era where there were no big paydays, he could lose to bums yet upset capable guys. He was an enigma.”
A more spartan lifestyle outside the ring, and not being inclined to party down now and again would have helped Hunter’s chances in making it over the hump, Trampler feels.
Hunter’s last outing wasn’t typical Mike, but it didn’t not fit his MO, either. On May 31, 1996, he made Brian Nielsen look silly some, in Denmark, with Nielsen’s IBO heavyweight title up for grabs. In round three, Hunter ricocheted off the ropes, dodging a loopy left hook, and somehow came off the ropes with a hurt right shoulder, or arm, it looked like.
On his stool, he shook his head, no, I want no more of this.
And he stuck to it—that was the last time he gloved up in a professional contest.
Keith Hunter was 14 when he learned his dad died. He didn’t see him fighting live, he told me, but he recalls a good man with a good heart, as a dad.
“He had a great soul, now, as a fighter, his style was more flamboyant than mine, I’m a little more conservative than him,” Keith shares.
Trauma makes or breaks people, and it feels to me like Michael and Keith Hunter have handled the potential lingering dark cloud feelings from Michael’s sad end as well as can be. I asked Keith about dealing with the loss.
“I remember at a certain time I felt lost, early on after he died, I was still soul searching, I was a freshman and it was like a pivotal point, I didn’t know which turn to go academics or more sports. After my pops died, it sparked something within me. He didn’t get his story out, his shine out to the world, I just wanna carry his legacy through.”
Friday, don’t expect to see “Drunken Master” style antics and clownery from Keith. He calls himself a boxer-puncher: “I am any fighter I need to be in that ring, there’s an infinite variety of circumstances placed upon us, so I stay in that very moment. I adjust.”
Keith’s IQ struck me, this kid is sharp. And sometimes, I think, thinkers can mess themselves up in a ring, where seamless flow is optimal, and over-thinking can cause paralysis. Does Keith Hunter ever fall prey to over-thinking in a fight?
“I never really over think,” Keith Hunter told me.
“Also, I have a dog in me, I’m a certain type of animal. I’ve never been hurt, and I will go in the trenches with anybody.”
POST-SCRIPT, sent from the “Only in Boxing” office:
“Mike once stepped in on the night of the fight when a stablemate pulled out, took the guy’s shoes and cup and trunks and filled in. The Jersey commission was okay with that and he fought a draw with very tough James Pritchard,” Top Rank Bruce Trampler recalled. “Story is absolutely true. I had to clear it with the NJSAC while the show was actually underway. Doug DeWitt might have been main event, I forget. Gutless Reggie Currington pulled out in the dressing room and trainer Carmen Graziano volunteered Hunter while I was standing there.”
A BoxRec check confirms it, Doug DeWitt, then 27-4-3, did headline the Feb. 20, 1987 card, at the Sands in Atlantic City. Seems like it was a strange night, overall.
Puerto Rican feast or famine type Jose Quinones, then 19-8-2, was supposed to be the bounce-back W after DeWitt lost a UD12 to Thomas Hearns, in October 1986. Instead, DeWitt got stopped out in round three, on a card portions of which ran on ESPN.
Iran Barkely was booked on the same card, no coincidence, he was in the same gernal middleweight tier at the time. Barley was 20-3 at the time, him and DeWitt were supposed to hook up a couple times, but never did, and DeWitt will tell you “The Blade” dodged him.
Oh, so to go a step deeper into the hows and whys of the Currington exit, and the Hunter step in.
Steve Springer offered up a summary in the April 26, 1987 LA Times:
Currington was booked to fight Pritchard, and him and Hunter were friends. Hunter came to the weigh in with Currington, and, “Hunter discovered about 15 minutes before the scheduled bout that Currington was running a fever and would be unable to fight. Impulsively, Hunter agreed to substitute for his friend.” Springer said that Hunter had run five miles earlier in the day, but a fight was a fight, a check was a check.
Yes, “The Bounty Hunter” used Currington’s cup.
Also, the actor James Caan was going to buy Hunter’s contract from Robert Mittleman, Caan told Springer, but the deal was up in the air because if Hunter lost, his allure would be scuffed. Mike fought well, and got a draw. Caan bought the contract, and wanted to move Hunter to a world title fight. Ah, but he was sorta like Sonny in the movie, impatient.
“If he isn’t ready in six months to fight for the title,” Caan said to Spinger, “I’ll quit. If he hasn’t learned by then, he’ll never learn.”
I’m not sure the whereabouts of Reggie Currington, if anyone has a line on him, ask him if he wants to offer his recollection of this “only in boxing” scenario. Same goes for Pritchard.
ShoBox: The New Generation runs Friday, February 28 live on SHOWTIME (10:45 p.m. ET/PT) from Sam’s Town Casino in Las Vegas.