|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - March 18, 2014||
To Philadelphia boxing fans, Eric "Outlaw" Hunter is without question one of the most talented boxers currently on the scene. As an amateur, he was outstanding. He won numerous tournaments, became an Olympic alternate, and amassed an astounding record of 187-4. Coming out of the amateurs, everyone believed that it was just a matter of time before Hunter became a world champion.
However, with a 17-3, 9 KOs, record, and after nine years in the professional ranks, many would say that the West Philadelphian has yet to live up to his potential. Some predict that he never will.
On Friday night, Hunter gets another chance to take a step toward reaching his potential. He faces Yenifel Vicente, a Miami-based Dominican, for the vacant USBA featherweight championship. The fight is the 10-round main event on the latest Joey Eye Boxing show at Harrah's Casino in Chester, PA.
Although the bout is not for a world title, if Hunter wins, it will earn him a world ranking in the IBF, and snag him his first pro title of any kind. Both would be major milestones in becoming the fighter everyone predicted he would be.
So why is it that this extremely talented boxer is also one of the most frustrating?
"It feels like I got a black cloud over me," Hunter said. "Don't it seem like that?"
Hunter had a bout with bad luck in his last fight. His meeting with former world champion Mike Oliver was expected to be another opportunity for him to finally break through. The 10-rounder had a regional belt at stake, and Hunter was eager to wrap it around his waist.
Maybe a little too eager.
In round one, Hunter unleashed a heavy left hook that knocked Oliver for a loop and sent him crashing to the floor. It only took him 50 seconds to end the bout. However, Hunter was disqualified for the punch when referee Benjy Esteves said that the blow landed on a break.
It was just one of those black cloud nights for Eric Hunter.
"It was too quick to call it a DQ", Hunter said. "It was entirely too quick. Disqualification is something that you do on purpose."
In the fight, Oliver had slipped to the canvas. As Hunter stepped back, Oliver jumped up and bounced off the ropes. The bounce pushed him toward Hunter, who had not yet retreated to a neutral corner. As Oliver came toward him, Outlaw let loose the punch that would knock his opponent down and out.
The scene was chaotic and everything happened in an instant. Hunter saw his golden opportunity turn sour right before his eyes.
"I was hurting," Hunter said. "Yeah, I was hurting."
To be sure, Hunter was disappointed. Further, the incident fed that place in Hunter’s brain that truly believes that the boxing establishment, if not the entire world, is against him.
"I watched it (a tape of the fight) twice," Hunter said. "Then I just washed my hands of it. There's nothing I can really do. I know what I did, and I know what he did. At the end of the day, everyone seen what happened."
To be fair, Hunter was no innocent bystander in the incident. He threw the questionable punch, and many felt that given all his experience, he should have known better. We've been debating this ever since it happened. And although fingers could be pointed in almost every direction, Hunter still claims that he doesn't even regret throwing that infamous punch.
"No! Then I'd be saying that I was wrong. No," Hunter said. "A referee can't say 'break', and be nowhere near the scene of the crime. (Esteves was criticized by some for not breaking the fighters more cleanly.) When you get disqualified, it's something that you do on purpose. For instance, when I was fighting Luis Franco, now there's a disqualification."
Hunter was disqualified in his 2010 fight with Franco for repeated low blows. It was a fight that was not going Hunter's way, and he did what he had to do to get out of it.
"Yeah, I messed up," Hunter said about the Franco fight. "I fucked up totally. So that's a disqualification. But to disqualify a kid (Hunter) when the kid (Oliver) that falls down on the ground jumps up in the kid's face, and that kid (Hunter) swings at him. What's he supposed to do? The last thing I heard the ref say was protect yourself at all times."
The incident still nags at Hunter, and probably always will.
"Floyd did the same thing to Victor Ortiz," Hunter said of the fight that was ultimately credited as a knockout for Mayweather. "I thought that was a disqualification. His shot was worse than mine."
The key for Hunter, guilty, innocent, or something in between, is to put it all behind him and get on with the business of moving forward. He now has an opportunity to fight a good opponent for a national belt. He needs to clear his head and seize this chance to move on and try again.
"Some people said I should come right back (after the Oliver fight)," Hunter said. "But it probably would have hurt me. It probably would have hurt me more than it would have helped. At first, I wanted to get the rematch with Mike Oliver. But I feel good about this fight (with Vicente). I think it's a good fight to come back on."
So five months later, Hunter will finally return to the ring, and it will be the exact same ring where he was disqualified against Oliver. It's the kind of thing that could play with Hunter's head.
"Bittersweet,” Hunter said about fighting again in Chester. "Bittersweet. I'm not too, too, too happy about it. But I'm happy that my fans get another chance to see me once again, and for me to right my wrong. For the most part, for me to right my wrong.”
To prepare for this fight, a revival of his boxing career, Hunter decided to go back to square one. So for the first time in years, Hunter returned to the Mitchell Allen Boxing Gym at West Philly’s Sheppard Recreation Center, the place where Hunter first put on a pair of boxing gloves.
“It means a lot,” Hunter said about being back at the Sheppard Rec. “This is home. This is where I started. This is where I learned my craft. This is where I’m most comfortable at, for real. For real. I think I needed to come back to where I started. Like, come back to the basics. Going back to the roots.”
And perhaps it has helped. Leading up to this fight, Hunter seemed more comfortable and confident than in any of his recent camps.
“You know, the kids (at the gym) look up to me,” Hunter said. “I like helping the kids. I like doing a lot of things with the kids. So for the most part, the kids are what motivates me. So that’s what made me come back.”
Hunter also reunited with his former trainer, Sloan Harrison, who now joins the mix of people in his corner.
“Sloane (Harrison), Huzma (Muhammad), my uncle, Uncle Apple,” Hunter listed his corner men. “Same people.”
The other relatively new addition in Hunter’s professional life is his manager, Mark Cipparone, who last year signed Outlaw to his ‘Club 1957 Management’ company, shortly before the Mike Oliver fight. Cipparone steers a small but potent stable of fighters that include Hunter, Tevin Farmer, Miguel Cartagena, and Teon Kennedy.
“My manager is great,” Hunter said. “I love my manager. The best manager I ever had in my life. Me and him are going to the top.”
Their first step in getting to the top is Yenifel Vicente on Friday night.
“What’s the mindset?” Hunter asked. “I’m looking to start it and I’m looking to finish it. He’s the one who’s got to come in with the game plan. My game plan is really just to be me. Don’t trip about what he has.”
Hunter gets edgy when he talks about his opponent.
“They say he’s a brawler,” Hunter said. “But he don’t throw that many punches. He throws what? Two, three punches at a time? He go, one (Hunter paws out a jab). Then he throws a big loopy one. Takes two steps back, and try to throw a big uppercut. That’s about it. I can’t trip about that. All I got to do is go in there, be me, and fight.”
Hunter’s trainer chimes in.
“He fought tougher guys already,” Sloan Harrison said. “Guys that always didn’t have satisfying records. Pretty records. But they were tougher than this guy.”
“They wouldn’t allow me easy fights,” Hunter added.
“They wouldn’t allow him to fight easy fights,” Harrison agreed. “Never would.”
“Me? I didn’t have no good break,” Hunter said. “They didn’t make it easy for me. You know how other guys got it easy? They didn’t make it easy for me. I think I’ve fought better fighters than him already. Jerry Belmontes was way better than him.”
Hunter defeated Belmontes by unanimous 10-round decision in December 2012, in what was probably his best pro win to date.
“I fought a lot of way bigger fighters than him too,” Hunter said. “Leon Bobo. Andre Wilson, the one who Teon Kennedy had a tough time with. I had a lot of tough fights as a pro.”
“Right now I feel happy,” Hunter said. I trained three, four months for this. I’m just ready to go.”
“His best chance, I would say, is a puncher’s chance,” Hunter said. “If he can’t beat me on skills, then there has to be a puncher's chance. I’m going to keep my hands up. That’s all you got to do. I’m not going to be walking to him, bent over, going ‘hit me in the face’. He’s going to have to earn it. (But) he ain’t going to get it.”
There is little question that Hunter has the skills. The question is, can he finally put it all together? Not just in this fight, but beyond it? Most of Outlaw’s problems take place outside the ring, while he’s waiting for another fight and over-thinking his next move. And he’s starting to realize that if he’s going to make that move, he needs to begin his roll toward the title now.
“And you are getting ready to see that,” Harrison said about his fighter’s drive and clear-headedness. “He’s ready.”
“Momentum,” Hunter said. “Stay focused and use it. I’m not going to overlook him. But after I beat Yenifel Vicente, then we can worry (about a next fight). Is he good? I think he’s a good person for my resume. After I beat Yenifel Vicente, then we go from there. I’m not going to overlook my opponent. I’m focusing on whipping his butt.”
If Eric Hunter can do that, he may finally be on his way to that place we all thought he’d be already. Hunter is a complicated guy. Brilliant in the ring, but unsettled outside of it. He has everything he needs to become a champion, but still has to overcome much to get there.
Some say he won’t ever make it. That he will self-destruct, if he hasn’t already. But this is Hunter’s fight. Forget Yenifel Vicente. Forget Mike Oliver. Forget Luis Franco, and all the rest. Hunter has to get past himself, and that belief that everyone in the world of boxing is out to get him.
He sounds like he’s starting to get over that hurdle. Just days until the fight, and Hunter is loose and confident, and sounds ready. Usually at this point, he’s quiet, suspicious, and waiting for the axe to fall. Not in the ring, but outside it.
Hunter seems different this time. Maybe it’s the fact that he went back to his roots for this fight. Or maybe it’s because of his new manager.
Mark Cipparone wasn’t around for Hunter’s first act as a fighter. He doesn’t compare the Hunter of today to that can’t-miss little kid with all the amateur trophies. Cipparone only met Hunter last year, and just believed in him. That can go a long way.
But it will be up to Hunter to win this fight and get himself to the next one, and the next one after that.
“I’m looking to put on a show,” Hunter said about Friday’s fight. “Box. Use my mind. Use my brain. And use my skills. I’m looking to give the fans what they want to see. You know what I’m saying? What hurts me is when I’m not at my best. I just want to be the best me.”
The best Hunter? That is exactly who his fans want to see. And if he can put it all together, not just on Friday night, but from now on, Hunter will become that fighter everyone expected him to be.
Everyone including himself.