Michael Hunter sat in the gloom of his pallor by himself, watching the parade of 2008 Olympic athletes representing the United States walk across his TV screen.
Emotions tore through him when he saw the faces of his U.S. boxing teammates, chief among them being regret. He should have been there in Beijing, China, he thought.
Maybe it’s why the trip to London means more to Hunter, the 2012 U.S. heavyweight on the American boxing team, than possibly anyone else on the squad. Because in 2008, he never got that chance, suffering from a 10-3 points loss to Venezuela’s Jose Payares in the super heavyweight semifinals of the Americas qualifier in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Hunter got sick the night before the fight and was greatly weakened by the time he climbed through the ropes to face Payares. All Hunter had to do was win his semifinal fight to qualify for the 2008 Beijing games.
“If we saw a healthy Michael Hunter, we can only guess what would have happened, but the 2012 version of Micheal Hunter easily beats the 2008 version of Michael Hunter,” said Mustafa Ameen, Hunter’s business partner. “We can’t look back at 2008, and say would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.”
A two-time national super heavyweight champion, Hunter was pressured to turn pro, although he wanted to give the 2012 London games a chance. Hunter’s team went to Europe and he was a sparring partner for RING heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschkoin preparation for his fights against Eddie Chambers and David Haye.
It’s the sparring against Klitschko, the 1996 Olympic gold medal winner, that Hunter credits with improving the fighter he was four years ago. After one session, Klitschko pulled Hunter aside and spoke to him about the importance of winning an Olympic gold medal.
Hunter has slimmed down, dropping to heavyweight, which in Olympic boxing is a 201-pound limit. He also comes armed with the seasoning he gained from who he calls the greatest heavyweight sparring partner in the world.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster for me, and I learned a lot sparring against Wladimir,” Hunter said. “I don’t think anyone I face in the Olympics will have too many things that will give me a surprise. My concern is to stay focused and have fun. I was able to hang in there against the best heavyweight in the word, and I had a different attitude.
“What else new can I see? There is no one in the world better than that man. Wladimir and me really clicked. He saw a fire me in similar to himself and one day we were talking and he told me when he got the gold medal, and how his life was never the same. He expressed that to me and how much of a big thing that was. He told me to keep pushing.”
Hunter walks around at about 208 pounds and shouldn’t have any trouble making the 201-pound limit. He also feels faster and quicker than when he fought at super heavyweight.
His mind wanders back to the time he was there alone sitting on his couch. He remembers what it was like watching the flag go by and seeing the faces of U.S. teammates—and the ringing phrase that he still can’t escape “I should be there, I should be there, I should be there … ”
He tries not to read anything about himself, about his chances or predictions, and how the 2008 U.S. team was the biggest disappointment in U.S. Olympic history. Hunter refuses to be weighed down by expectations.
His concern is to live in the moment, and absorb the chance he didn’t get four years ago.
“It’s still a surreal moment; I know what I’m heading for and know where I’m going,” Hunter said. “I’m training right before the games. It still hasn’t fully hit me yet and it won’t until I get to the Olympic village and a lot of things going on with the pressure.
“Still, overall, it’s a good feeling. I’m just going to block the world out and stay on my mission. But I am looking forward to being a part of the Olympic parade coming in, because I know the struggle it took everyone to get here. Once I step into the ring, I’ll be right back at home. It will go from a new experience, to boom, right back at work.”
Photos / Kevin C. Cox-Getty Images, Eitan Abramovich-AFP