April Hunter: Taking Life On The Chin

There was a spell in the third round of April Hunter’s last fight where the welterweight prospect had to weather a storm and come out triumphant on the other side. It was two minutes of her boxing career that could have been used to sum up her own life.

Competitive, rocky moments, courageous, tough and a smile emerged at the end of it all from the Geordie when she defeated Elsa Hernat in her third professional fight, which took place on a Matchroom Spain promotion two months ago in Barcelona.

The 26-year-old had looked in control against the Frenchwoman for the first four minutes, but a moment of complacency allowed her opponent back into the fight in round three.

“I’ve ended the [second] round thinking this is a doddle, this is easy, this is so one-sided then I’ve gone into the third round, tried to steamroll her again,” Hunter told Boxing Social. “[I was] just too excited. Eddie Hearn [was] saying, ‘shot’, ‘shot’ and I’m thinking I might get her out of here [laughs]. You need your coach there just for the little things. You live and you learn. I’ve got a good chin. I showed that.”

Her coach Joe McNally couldn’t be with her on the night so up stepped Stefy Bull to come to Hunter’s aid. Bull had been an observer of her prior to the Spanish excursion when his super-featherweight world champion Terri Harper had sparred Hunter.

The trip was a chaotic adventure, one she is likely not to forget and one that at the end of it all focused her mind on the positives, not the negatives, such is her outlook on life.

“It was mad,” she recalled. “It was just mental. It was basically go by yourself or don’t go at all and I just wanted to fight so I just thought let’s go. So, I rang [her friend] Savannah [Marshall] and said do you want to come with me. And she said I don’t know what I’m doing in the corner! I said just come. It was totally winged, it was mad. We got the job done and it’s on to Newcastle for a proper, strict performance. Boxing, not just a fight.”

“I watched it back with me coach [when he] got back from Russia,” she added. “And he said, ‘See there, at the end of the second round, I’d have got you at the end of the round, bollocked you and said what are you doing, get on your jab!’”

Tomorrow night Hunter, with McNally by her side, will be fighting Klaudia Vigh in front of her home fans as part of a Matchroom show filled with Geordie fighting pride. The card takes place at Newcastle’s Eagles Community Arena and will be headlined by Lewis Ritson’s world title final eliminator against Jeremias Ponce. A thousand fans will be in attendance as punters begin to emerge from lockdown and back into venues for fight nights. This fight week will bring back memories from Hunter’s professional debut in October 2019 at the Newcastle Arena. A place that transforms itself through sound into a fighting thunderdome particularly when Lewis Ritson, as he was then, is on the show.

“It was unreal,” she said thinking back to those seven days. “I remember being in the press conference and I had Ritson, I had my good friend Joe Laws sat next to me and I was thinking wow this is amazing. I couldn’t have been on a better card. The fight between Lewis and Robbie Davies was probably one of the best fights I’ve seen. It’s really good to see my fellow Geordies doing well. I think there will be many more big nights to come.”

Managed by Tony Bellew, fighting on Eddie Hearn’s shows and represented by marketing company The Fighting Agency, Hunter is certainly in good, experienced hands. Opportunities will continue to present itself if she keeps winning and, while her ideas of fighting someone like Hannah Rankin further down the line or even Sandy Ryan in years to come are somewhere at the back of her mind, the job for now is to keep progressing, cutting out the mistakes, avoiding the want for a tear-up and listening to those around her. It is a boxing career that was never imagined or even deemed a possibility in her early teens such was her love for football, particularly when she had been playing for Newcastle from the age of nine.

“I was set on playing football. I thought I was going to be going to America on a scholarship. I thought that would have been me, I thought I would have been playing college football but then life happened, and it just went from there,” she recalled.

‘Life’ included a career ending ACL injury at 15-years-old. The dreams of America and a new life were over.

“I miss football. I still get a bit of gyp from my knee from time to time. It’s not bad or affects my boxing but when I’m doing sprints, I’ve got to manage it. So, I miss football, but I could never risk playing football when I’m boxing because it would cause all sorts of problems. You’ve got to sacrifice. Just like you’ve got to sacrifice your food, going out with your friends… it’s one of them things. I do miss it though.”

Going out with friends and drinking became part of her life after the injury. The weight began to pile on as her usual active self was confined to no activity having spent 11 months on crutches. It was not only an eventful time for the teenager but a life-changing one, too. The nights out, the drinking and the fast food were doing her no good but more importantly than that there was something that she had to talk about, something she had to tell her family.

“I came out when I was 16,” she said.

“When I told my mum I was gay she told the family, ‘Right, this is the crack, nobody is saying nothing to her’ and nobody did and I was like fair play. I know people have had the flip side of the coin. I’ve got a cousin that’s five years older than me, she’s gay and she had such a tough time with it, and I think she carried the brunt of the load. They had already been through the process, so it was quite easy for my family. Obviously, it’s a nerve-wracking experience. I wouldn’t say it was totally plain sailing. My two uncles had a few little digs, ‘Oh it’s just a phase, when you getting a boyfriend’. I still get them comments now. I’m like just grow up.”

Hunter told Boxing Social that prejudice hasn’t plagued her life, thankfully. Given her love for football, then boxing and revealing her sexuality could – as we have seen throughout cruel parts of society – given her a torrid time but she uses the solid chin she has for absorbing any negativity as well as punches.

“I think you always get the odd lad that says, ‘Aw, you think you’re a man… you’re a dyke’ or whatever. I’ve never had any badness off my friends or my family which I know some people do from theirs. I’m quite lucky for that.”

Hunter hit the headlines for non-boxing reasons when she and her partner Jenny visited the Maldives for a holiday in January. The couple posed in the sea having a kiss but, sadly, the Maldives deems homosexuality as illegal and criminalises any same-sex conduct between adults. Fines, imprisonment and a hundred lashes can be the punishment for moments such as the tender one that Hunter shared with Jenny.

Hunter talked about the moment in question and couldn’t believe how one kiss sparked so much media and social media interest.

“Do you want the God’s honest truth?” she began.

“I had some mascara on my eyebrow and she went to get it off my eyebrow and I said, Whoa, what you doing like, don’t touch me’ but nobody was there. I was dead respectful when I was there, I wasn’t putting it in people’s faces or anything like that, but the place was dead and I thought we’d get a nice picture and I was looking round thinking I’m going to post that.

“And then I was thinking that was mad and I was Googling it… eight years’ lashings… prison whatever it was saying I just thought it was mad. So, I posted it and then I went on Twitter and this news lot in Australia retweeted it and then loads of people started commenting on it and then my partner Jenny was like, ‘April, maybe you shouldn’t have put that on’. So, I deleted it but by then it was everywhere and then it became this like big statement, but I didn’t plan for it. It happened and I’m happy it did.”

From the Maldives to Liverpool, via Newcastle and Barcelona, life for April Hunter is now spent on Merseyside and with her trainer Joe McNally. She believes her boxing career is starting to come together and has adapted to life away from home in the northeast. Her Spanish lesson was just that and something she admits to learning from and vows not to make the same mistakes again.

Experience, sparring different styles and getting rounds in the bank are some of the short-term goals for Hunter who only had a couple of amateur fights. The phrase ‘learning on the job’ fits Hunter to a tee. But what about this time next year, where does she see herself?

“This time next year? I would have wanted to have another five fights. I would want to be looking at your Hannah Rankins and looking for titles. That’s where I want to be this time next year, a million per cent. You never know, see what’s happening with Sandy Ryan. I know she’s turning over at light-welter, but she might come up to welter. That’s a potential fight down the line. These kind of fights you need to plan them and build them as much as possible.

“These past 16 months have gone. You can look at it two ways, you can look at it negatively or positively. It’s been a bit of a nightmare, but I’ve learned a lot. I just can’t wait to get active, busy boxing regularly and that’s when you’ll see the best of me.”

Main image: Matchroom Boxing