Actor James Caan has a special reason to root for U.S. boxing heavyweight Michael Hunter

Michael Hunter Jr., right, has the support of actor James Caan (AP)
Michael Hunter Jr., right, has the support of actor James Caan (AP)

LONDON – Hollywood actor James Caan is personally invested in the London 2012 Olympics after discovering a surprising connection to a young boxer with a heartbreaking story.

Caan, who played football at Michigan State and starred in such films as "The Godfather," "Misery" and "Brian's Song," was a boxing manager and promoter in the 1980s. One of his boxing talents was heavyweight contender Mike "The Bounty" Hunter, whose son Michael is competing for the United States in the Games.

Mike Hunter Sr.'s career began late because of a seven-year jail stint for armed robbery and was blighted by alcohol- and drug-related issues. He met a tragic end, shot and killed by police officers in a drug bust atop the St. Moritz hotel in Los Angeles in 2006.

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Caan, 72, split with Hunter after the fighter's personal problems interfered with his in-ring performances and eventually drifted away from the sport himself. He was shocked when Hunter Jr. introduced himself in a boxing gym a couple of years ago.

"I couldn't believe it when this kid came up to me, very polite, and explained who he was," Caan told Yahoo! Sports in a telephone interview. "I knew his father well and managed him for a few of his fights.

"I remember the first time I saw [Hunter Sr.], he had this crazy style. He would move from side to side instead of in and out, but it was so unorthodox it was difficult to handle. They would bring him in as a tomato can for young up-and-coming fighters to beat up on, but then he would turn the tables and knock them out."

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The "Bounty Hunter" had a professional record of 26-7-2, but several of those losses came late in his career when he was past his peak.

"I remember I got him a fight at The Forum and it was televised," said Caan, referring to a bout between Hunter and Levi Billups. "It was a good opportunity for him and I thought he would kill the guy.

"I was in his corner that night, which turned out to be not such a good idea, even though it was pretty hilarious in the end. He was fighting so badly, just hugging the guy and not throwing anything. I was getting angrier and angrier, and even though they had told me there were live microphones in the corner I was starting to lose it.

"In between rounds, I told him that if he was ever going back to prison he had better make sure it was for armed robbery, because it certainly wouldn't be for assault and battery. As it turned out, he was not in the right condition. He had not been looking after himself and he had some problems with different stuff. It was a shame, but he could really fight and I was saddened to hear what happened to him in the end."

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The younger Michael Hunter, a heavyweight, is one of the brightest hopes on a strong U.S. squad expected to greatly improve upon the dismal 2008 performance that saw the team bring home just one medal, a bronze.

Hunter will likely turn pro after the Olympics, but in the meantime, he'll have a famous fan cheering him on.

"I follow the boxing anyway," Caan said. "But I will be watching all of Michael's fights with special interest and I really wish him the best. I hear a lot of good things about him, the way he works hard and dedicates himself to the sport. He deserves for positive things to happen to him."

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