Mitch Hunt might be the only boxer in the world to train in the North Atlantic ocean.
While his boxing peers hit the gyms where sparring partners and the proper equipment are plentiful, the Kelligrews, C.B.S. light heavyweight spends three weeks at a time training in a round gym measuring about 20 by 20 feet — one of the legs of the GSF Grand Banks, an oil rig some 350 miles southeast of St. John’s.
“I can lift weights on the bench and hit the heavy bag, but I can only go halfway around the heavy bag,” Hunt says of the gym’s limitations. “If I ever miss, I’m probably going to beat my knuckles off one of the beams.”
The meagre gym also includes a treadmill for cardio workouts, but little else. But for Hunt, who completes 90 per cent of his onshore training in his basement with little more than a set of free weights and a heavy bag of his own, training at sea isn’t seen as a disadvantage.
The biggest drawback of being out to sea is the lack of sparring partners. That said, Hunt has sometimes struggled to find sparring partners on dry land.
“You can run all you like, and do all the cardio you like, but it’s not the same as being in the ring.”
Ande Hunt needs all the work he can get, as he’s vying for a spot on Canada's national boxing team.
“That’s always been a problem here in Newfoundland. When I was younger, it wasn’t a big deal, but as you start getting older and boxing at the senior level, it is,” says Hunt who has since begun stepping into the ring against local kickboxers, including Robbie Wiseman.
For Hunt, it’s just a minor obstacle, one he overcomes by putting in the extra work on the bag, weights and cardio.
After high school, Hunt — the 2002 provincial junior champ and national junior bronze medallist — walked away from the sport bound for a job in Alberta’s oil industry.
“I was working a schedule that didn’t work at all for boxing. I was working more than I was off.”
One day about four years ago, Hunt was watching a boxing match on television and was overwhelmed by the urge to get back in the ring. He scouted several clubs in the Edmonton area, eventually settling on one frequented by former Canadian Olympic boxer, Adam Trupish.
Two years later, Hunt was on his way back to Newfoundland with a new job offshore, and returned to training at the Conception Bay South Boxing Club.
“As soon as I got back into it, I realized I didn’t want to give it up ever again.”
Not long after returning, Hunt was back in the ring and defeated former national bronze medallist Craig Hiller from Nova Scotia in a 180-pound exhibition bout. Knocking off a Canadian boxing medallist must have done wonders for his confidence as a few weeks later Hunt stepped into the ring at the 2010 senior nationals in St. Hyacinthe, Que. and walked out as the reigning bronze medallist.
A month later at the national cadet and junior boxing championships, Hunt competed in a senior box-off with the top six senior boxers in his weight class with the winner earning a spot on Canada’s national team. The 2003 Canada Games boxer missed his chance to don the maple leaf, losing a bout to Ontario’s Steve Franjek.
Boxing Canada staged a second national championship last December (the previous Canadian senior championship was held in January, 2010) and Hunt took part in the senior men’s final team selection box-off, held in conjunction with the national championship back in St. Hyacinthe.
Hunt won his first match, beating national silver medallist Andre Stewart on points, before dropping his semifinal bout to Manitoba’s Andrew Gardiner when the ref stopped the match in the third round.
But his third place showing earned him a spot on Canada’s C team, and shortly afterwards he got a call from Boxing Canada.
With Colin Fish, the reigning 81-kilogram light-heavyweight national champ competing at the Pan-Am qualifier in Ecuador and national silver medallist Gardiner nursing a broken foot, they needed Hunt to fill in on the card at the Ken Goff Memorial Tournament in Regina, Sask., in May.
“I got right back into the gym and had about two weeks to prepare for the event,” he said.
Still, Hunt had no idea who he would be fighting and while that’s not an uncommon fate for amateur boxers, it makes preparation something of a challenge.
“A lot of the times when I got away to nationals, I know who my toughest competitors are and that’s who I’m studying. For a tournament like (the Ken Goff), there’s really nothing I could do.
“But you can’t let yourself get worked up about it,” Hunt explains. “You just have to get in there and do exactly what you want to do.”
Evidently, Hunt did just that as he collected a pair of wins over England’s Matthew Neilson, both by points.
But he’s still on the C team, the third option for Boxing Canada.
The only way to improve his lot will be to win at nationals this coming January in Cape Breton, N.S., not an easy task considering it’s an Olympic year — assuming Canada’s team even qualifies for London 2012.
Hunt, who expects to have busy fight card through the summer and fall, believes it’s within reach.
“I just have to keep going and make sure I get some more experience this year and get a few more fights in. There are some tough competitors out there, but I feel pretty confident that I can do it.
“I’ll be fighting for that spot on team Canada.”