SI Vault
Dan Levin
July 31, 1972
The big hit and hitter of the Olympic Trials was Duane Bobick, but Bobby Lee Hunter missed enough to miss out on Munich
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July 31, 1972

A Couple Of Hit And Miss Propositions

The big hit and hitter of the Olympic Trials was Duane Bobick, but Bobby Lee Hunter missed enough to miss out on Munich

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The sobriquets will be forthcoming soon enough. For those who can't wait; try on Minnesota Mauler or Bowlus Bomber for size. In point of fact, the size is 6'3", 205 and impressively proportioned. The square monicker is Duane Bobick and it belongs to a brash U.S. Navy quartermaster third class out of Bowlus, Minn. who has won the heavyweight division at the Olympic Boxing Trials. Bobick took the honor at Texas Christian University last weekend in the 100th fight of his career with his 58th knockout and 59th consecutive victory. If anyone loves to fight, Bobick does, and he did so joyfully, cleanly and overwhelmingly well. There was no smoldering anger in him. Instead, there was an air of benevolence. All week in Fort Worth, Bobick winked at children, teenage girls, old ladies, men and lampposts. He was solicitous of other fighters, too, including the three he knocked out in consecutive fights. One even lasted two rounds.

It wasn't that Duane Bobick went soft in that marathon. What he did was go toe-to-toe with Nick Wells, who is the national AAU champion and had 50 knockouts in 75 fights. Wells was also one of only three fighters in the trials who had registered knockouts in both his preliminary bouts. The fact that he is built like George Chuvalo out of Gargantua and lives in Fort Worth and had a hometown crowd out front didn't hurt, either. The sounds that filled the Texas night were these: a high-pitched, frenzied roar set against the bass of four blunt weapons pounding flesh. By the second round two of them beat an increasingly insistent rhythm. Those were Bobick's, and soon both he and Wells were bloody. Wells, who had never been cut before, wasn't allowed to come out for round three.

Bobick's coach, Panama Murph Griffith, who is Emile Griffith's uncle, said quixotically, "I don't want to jump before the horse, but you haven't seen this boy fight yet. You'll see a different fighter after a while. There's certain things I can't say, but you will."

Another coach simply said, "He's got the bombs."

In 1968 Bobick lost in an elimination tournament prior to the trials, and he was weeping in the dressing room when that year's Olympic coach, Pappy Gault, came in. Gault recalls: "I said, 'Don't cry, boy. You've got nothing to be ashamed of. One of these days you're going to be champion of the world.' "

Now, four years later at Fort Worth, Gault was saying, "I think the kid'll do as great as Muhammad Ali in bringing in money for the promoters. He's got a good jab, a good right, a good heart and a wonderful personality. He's way ahead of George Foreman at a similar stage of his career."

The dormitory at TCU is empty but for one small figure in a room on the third floor. Bobby Lee Hunter, a flyweight boxer, sits alone in the dark. The previous night he had been eliminated from the trials. So had many other fighters, but they had fuller lives than his. They had girl friends to go home to and jobs and open roads to run down—alone if they chose. But Hunter would return to South Carolina's Manning Correctional Institution. His story has been told and retold: the trouble in the Charleston ghetto five years ago, the verdict of manslaughter, the tiny 17-year-old folding sheets at Manning and, finally, the discovery of his talent. He won the national AAUs, both last year and this, and a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games. He went on international tours. Everything he had he owed to boxing—the sudden feeling of pride built on success after success, a sense of who he could be, and the focal point of it all was Munich. Now his friends were worried, fearful of what the disappointment of his defeat might do to him.

For a while there was talk that he would be picked as an alternate, and go to the Bear Mountain, N.Y. pre-Olympic training camp, but Hunter said that was not what he had in mind. Maybe, someone said, he just wanted to be asked, to hear he was still wanted.

"You've still got a chance to win it if you go," Hunter is told.

"Naw," he says.

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