|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY July 04, 2012||
ERIC HUNTER RETURNS TO THE RING
For years the word around the local boxing scene was that Eric "Outlaw" Hunter was the best fighter in Philadelphia. The rising featherweight had a vast amateur background under his belt, an excellent professional record, was talented, well conditioned, respected, and even feared by some. There was only one problem. Eric Hunter never fought.
Perhaps "never" is an overstatement, but inactivity was always the major knock against the enigmatic boxer who many said would be, or should be, a world champion. The conversation about Hunter eventually changed from speculating when he'd win the title to wondering if his talent would be completely wasted - especially over the past 18 months.
However, Hunter is slated to return to a boxing ring on Saturday night (July 7th) at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City, Philadelphia. His fans hope that this will be the fight that re-launches Hunter's career and sets him on the road to finally reaching the potential so many believed he had.
Hunter himself is hoping for the same thing. He looks at his fight with Jason Rorie on Saturday, as a fresh start to his boxing career.
"THIS is my pro debut," said the 17-fight veteran while training this week at the Shuler Gym in West Philly. "Now I have to do what I was supposed to do."
What he was supposed to do was climb the pro ranks and prove himself to be one of Philly's best fighters.
For most of his career, Hunter trained out of the Kingsessing Recreation Center under the tutelage of trainer Sloane Harrison, who gave him the nickname of "Outlaw".
"The nickname I got when I was kid, boxing everybody," Outlaw said. "They called me "Outlaw" because I didn't care how I won. I just fought everybody."
His casual approach to the sport and willingness to fight anyone allowed the boxer to rack up a number of amateur titles and a shelf full of trophies.
"I had about 200 amateur fights," Hunter said. "I won the National PAL, the Junior Olympics, Golden Gloves, Diamond Belts, all that. I got a couple of titles under my belt."
One of Hunter's biggest fans was 1960s welterweight prospect Dick Turner. The Southwest Philly prospect began training fighters with Harrison at the Rec Center long after his own promising boxing career ended because of an eye injury.
"He helped me out as a kid," Hunter remembered about Turner. "He helped me win the nationals when I was 15."
Hunter turned professional at age 18 with a unanimous decision win over 18-bout veteran Broderick Harper at the National Guard Armory in Northeast Philadelphia on January 7, 2005, and zipped through his first five opponents before the first gap in his boxing resume appeared.
After scoring a quick TKO of Steve Lozoya in March of 2006 for his 5th victory, Hunter waited ten months before fighting again. When he returned on January 11, 2007 against Carlos Vinan, the inactivity contributed to his first career loss. The decision was close, but Hunter wound up with his first "L".
Hunter jumped right back into the ring, fighting just two weeks later to start a 10-bout undefeated streak that raised his record to 15-1 (8 KO). However, halfway through the run, Hunter went idle for more than a year between 2008 and 2009. The gap didn't seem to hurt him in the ring once he returned, but it still cost him precious time.
After beating Andre Wilson in September 2010, Hunter landed a fight on Showtime against Luis Franco, 7-0 (6 KO) for the vacant WBO Intercontinental featherweight title. It seemed to be the opportunity he'd been waiting for. With TV network televising to a national audience, a highly touted opponent, and a regional title at stake, Hunter hoped this fight would be his coming out party. However, it turned out to be a disaster.
In round eight of the scheduled ten rounder, Hunter was disqualified for repeated low blows against Franco, who was winning the fight at the time of the stoppage. His critics believed Hunter fouled his way out of a fight that wasn't going his way. His reputation took a blow. Perhaps more importantly, the loss derailed Hunter and began another layoff - his longest yet, 19 months.
"Yeah, I took it hard," Hunter said. "On TV, and a guy that I shoulda beat. I think I really should have won that fight. Honestly, it was an easy fight for me. But you take fights on short notice, and take opponents lightly, that's what happens."
When Hunter talks about the fight, you can tell it is a black mark for him. He sounds disgusted, and looks down. His words, usually fired in quick bursts, come slowly. There is a hint of bitterness as he battles between making excuses and taking responsibility.
"Listening to people that you think have your best interests at heart," Hunter said without naming names. "That's what messed me up. Thinking they were going to move me. Being manipulated. (Letting) people draw you in instead of having your own mind. But now I just have to grow. Right now I'm gonna right my wrongs. That's what I'm gonna do."
Hunter gets a chance to start again on Saturday night. At 6-15-2 (3 KO), Hunter's opponent, Jason Rorie, is not a world beater. However, he does boast a draw against a young Coy Evans, and has faced good fighters like Joselito Collado and Thomas Snow.
"I know I can't really make a heavy statement fighting him," Hunter said of Rorie. "But I can still make a statement. People can say, 'Damn! This kid is doing what he's supposed to do'."
And then Hunter laid it on the line.
"I just want to win. I just want to win," Hunter said. "I don't know nothing about him. Nothing. I fought probably way better guys than he ever fought, or thought about. I know I'm the best fighter he ever fought... by far. But I know he's coming to fight. This is a good fight, but it's not a big fight. He's thinking he can beat me, and I can make sure he knows that he shouldn't even be in the ring with me."
Hunter's desire to fight again seems completely tied to proving himself. He wants to live up to those very high expectations people had of him.
"My talent is real, real high. But I'm not proven. Maybe it's the people I associate with, or used to associate with. Maybe it's a lot of things why I'm not a world champion right now."
Hunter continued, "I want to show now that I'ma be busy and that I want to go to the top. I figure that I'm one of the best fighters in Philly. You got a lot of great fighters out there. You got Mike Jones, Teon Kennedy, Danny Garcia, Hank Lundy, Karl Dargan. You got a lot of guys that came up with me, and I should be right there (with them). So I'm back to the drawing board."
For Hunter, returning to the drawing board meant a new gym (Shuler's), a new trainer (Hamza Muhammad), and a whole new attitude. Now that he has all three, Outlaw hopes he can make the fresh start that will propel him to the next level.
At 25, Hunter has been at the boxing game for a long time.
"I didn't walk into the boxing gym," he said of his start in the sport long, long ago. "My uncle took me there when I was a baby. From there on, I was boxing. I know boxing more than reading and math."
Hunter, 25, is talented and has already accomplished much in the ring, especially as an amateur. But most of those who know his story, including Hunter himself, would agree that we haven't seen his best.
His chance to show everyone what he's capable of begins Saturday night at the Convention Center, but it doesn't end there. He's had standout performances before, but singular accomplishments don't get you to the top. Hunter knows this from experience.
"As long as I'm active and keep winning," Hunter said with the slightest question mark in his voice. "I'll be right there just like that. Just like I never left. And that's what I'm gonna do."
And there are a lot of people waiting to watch him do it.