Hunter Jr. inherits later father's love for boxing

DENVER -- Gwen Hunter squirmed in her seat in the stands, sidestepping punches herself whenever one was thrown at her son in the ring below.

She's been here before, ducking and dodging from the crowd when her husband, Michael "The Bounty" Hunter, was a professional boxer.

This, though, was way more stressful. Watching her son, Michael Hunter Jr., fight at the USA national championships Wednesday night was a jittery ordeal.

"It's hard to sit there and watch your child get hit," she said.

Not that he gets hit that often.

Just like his father, Hunter Jr. can punch and dance with the best of them. The resemblance between the two is uncanny, even from up in the stands.

"Fights exactly like his dad," Gwen Hunter said.

That's with good reason. Before a big bout, the son will pull up footage of his father, studying his punching prowess and ring presence.

"He could really box," Hunter Jr. said.

The son isn't bad, either. And he's only been fighting for a little more than three years. His father didn't want him to follow in his shadow, pushing him toward football and basketball -- something that didn't involve getting smacked in the face.

But boxing's in his blood. Hunter Jr. grew up in the gym, watching his dad spar with the likes of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe.

So when he announced at 17 he was pursuing boxing, no one was really surprised.

They were stunned at how easily he picked it up. A super heavyweight, he glides around the ring, waiting for his chance to pounce.

Hunter Jr. won the national championship in 2007 and followed that up by earning a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. However, he missed out on going to Beijing after falling in international qualifying.

"It was definitely crushing," said Hunter Jr., who turns 21 in July. "Who doesn't want to go to the Olympics and see the opening ceremonies? My mom sat down with me and we looked at the big picture -- I've only been boxing for a little while. I actually went far. I was a little ahead of my time. I still have a lot to grow and learn."

Sadly, his father was never in his corner for a big fight. The elder Hunter died in 2006 under circumstances the son has yet to fully piece together.

All Hunter Jr. knows is that his dad was killed during an altercation with police officers on a hotel roof in Los Angeles.

He doesn't know anymore.

Someday, he wants to ask more questions of his mom. Just not now.

"It's not a pretty picture and I want to spare them of all of that," said Gwen Hunter, who had three children with Hunter Sr. "I want them to remember him for the good things -- he was good provider, good husband, excellent dad."

For as tough as it was to view her son's fight from the stands, she found something even more agonizing -- watching her son get a win taken away.

Hunter Jr. beat Lenroy Thompson 8-7 in a quarterfinal match, earning the decisive final point on a punch with 2 seconds remaining in the final round.

However, a protest was filed over how much gauze Hunter Jr. used to wrap his hands.

For two agonizing hours, the family waited for the verdict as the grievance committee deliberated. When he was disqualified, Gwen Hunter broke into tears.

Her son quickly came over and placed a hand on her shoulder, reassuring her.

"I'm just going to roll with the punches like I always do," said Hunter Jr., shrugging his shoulders at the decision.

Still, this could be the final straw for his amateur career.

Could the disqualification lead him to turn pro?

His uncle and trainer, Kevin Henry, is pushing for it.

"I would suggest we leave it alone and go ahead and turn pro, get on with his career and his life," Henry said. "We don't want to be the top amateur. He wants to be heavyweight champion of the world."

Hunter Jr. said that decision is better left until later.

For now, he's content training with his uncle and good friend Hasim Rahman Jr. -- the 17-year-old son of the former heavyweight champion of the world -- in Las Vegas.

"Sparring with Mike, I know for a fact, there will no fight as tough," said Rahman Jr., who lost Tuesday in his match. "He gives you that confidence. He's been to the top."

Hunter Jr.'s one regret? That his father wasn't around to see his development.

"I wish that would've happened," he said.

His mom knows his dad would be proud.

"Elated," she said. "He'd be more proud of his son than he was of himself."