By Francisco Salazar
Welterweight prospect Keith Hunter wants to prove his win over prospect Sanjarbek Rakhmanov is the beginning of moving forward to becoming a contender and becoming the face of boxing in Las Vegas.
Hunter must get through gatekeeper Cameron Krael tonight in a crossroads clash at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas. The fight, along with the main event bout between Angelo Leo and Mark John Yap, will stream live on the Mayweather Promotions Facebook page.
The 26-year-old Hunter had built an unbeaten record by defeating average opposition up until his fight against Rakhmanov on Apr. 5. Rakhmanov was the favorite going in to fight, but Hunter dropped the former amateur standout from Uzbekistan to win by split-decision.
Hunter faced and was able to overcome adversity during the fight.
“I learned a lot about myself that night,” Hunter told Boxingscene over the phone Tuesday night. “It was the first time I had ever been cut in a fight. Some young fighters are affected psychologically from a cut and it alters their state of mine and game-plan. The cut didn’t deter me. I also learned how to conserve my energy in every round.”
The Rakhmanov fight was Hunter’s first eight-round bout, but his fight tonight against Krael will be his first 10-rounder. Hunter will face one of boxing’s top gatekeepers, who has defeated some of boxing’s top prospects and unbeaten fighters.
Within a 12-month span between 2015 and 2016, Krael (16-13-1, 3 KOs) lost close decisions to unbeaten fighters Alex Martin, Roberto Arriaza, Jose Felix Quezada, and Egidijus Kavaliauskas. Krael’s has won eight of his last 10 bouts, with his only blemish a split-decision loss to Erick Bone on May 11 of last year.
Hunter is familiar with Krael as they both reside in Las Vegas and have fought under the Mayweather Promotions banner. Hunter respects Krael’s accomplishments, but believes he can be victorious tonight.
“We fought twice in the amateurs, with each winning a fight,” said Hunter, who is managed by Martin Mikolajczak. “Krael is just a new piece of the puzzle for me to figure out. I can’t call him a gatekeeper, because he has a phenomenal amount of skill. He’s really seasoned and by far the far, the most skillful fighter I’ve faced. I can’t take him lightly. This is a gamble on my side for taking this fight, but I’m confident in my ability as a fighter and what I could do.”
Hunter was born and raised in Las Vegas. He takes great pride in being from a city that has seen a considerable rise in growth, but where people know one another.
“You’re one person away from reaching out to people that you want to meet. Everyone knows someone who knows someone.”
Hunter has generated a following outside of his immediate family and they showed up in large numbers at his last bout in his win over Rakhmanov. Hunter says people in the community also support him and give him well-wishes before each fight.
Hunter believes Las Vegas is the crown jewel of boxing, and he hopes the city is well-represented by those who live in the city, including lightweight contender Devin Haney.
“I’ve sparred with Devin Haney many times and I’ve trained at most of the gyms in the city. There’s a lot of talent here and I take great pride in representing Las Vegas. I know Vegas is kind of distracting to others, especially with academics and sports, but it’s a very good environment. I love the summer and training here. I’ve gotten used to it.”
“Floyd Mayweather laid out the blueprint on the success in the city. I believe I can have star power based on my roots of Las Vegas. I’ve been blessed to receive the exposure I’ve been given. Some, even world-class fighters, don’t get that. I want to carve and continue making a name for myself.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing