Locals set sights on Olympics

Michael Hunter is down to his last chance.

The Las Vegas heavyweight gets one final opportunity to make a run toward realizing his Olympic dream as he competes in the USA Boxing national championships, which begin today and run through Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hunter will need to win the 201-pound division title to advance to the international Olympic qualifying tournament set for May in Rio de Janeiro. If he finishes in the top three, he’ll represent the United States at this summer’s Olympics in London.

Hunter appeared to be on his way last summer to earning a spot on Team USA. But after winning the Olympic Trials in Mobile, Ala., in August, he tested positive for marijuana. Hunter was stripped of his title and suspended for three months. He was reinstated in October, and because of the quirky way the U.S. chooses its boxing team, he still can make the squad.

“I should never have allowed myself to be in that position,” Hunter said. “It was a huge mistake on my part. I’m just grateful for this opportunity, and I’m very motivated.”

So is Brett Rather, a Las Vegas super heavyweight who made it to the challengers’ bracket semifinals at last year’s Olympic trials but was medically disqualified after suffering from concussionlike symptoms. If Rather can win his weight class, which includes fellow Las Vegan Zach Bunce, he will head to Brazil as well. As in the heavyweight division, the top three super heavyweights to place in Brazil will earn Olympic berths.

“I know so much more about what to expect,” Rather said. “I’ve trained smarter for this tournament; I was more selective as to who I sparred with, so I feel fresher.”

Several locals are among the 718 boxers competing this week at the nationals. In addition to Hunter, Rather and Bunce, Las Vegas will be represented by lightweights Andrej Avelar and Francisco Esparza, middleweights Christian Thomas and Xavier Hayden and heavyweights Hasim Rahman Jr. and Andrew Tabiti. Henderson lightweights Anthony Ibanez and Bronson Stultz and Mesquite light heavyweight Brandon Everett also are entered.

Las Vegas bantamweight Sergio Lopez and women’s light heavyweight Maricela Cornejo of Las Vegas also are scheduled to compete. However, with no potential Olympic spots in their divisions, they are fighting strictly for national titles.

■ MAYWEATHER-COTTO TICKETS — Tickets for the May 5 WBA junior middleweight title fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Ticketmaster and online at ticketmaster.com and mgmgrand.com. Prices are $200, $300, $600, $1,250 and $1,500, with a two-ticket limit on the $200 seats.

■ ORTIZ-BERTO TO L.A.? — The rescheduled rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto set for June 30 at Mandalay Bay appears to be moving to a new date and location.

Golden Boy Promotions is trying to bring the fight to Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 23. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said he believes ticket sales would be better in L.A.

“I’m not sure the Las Vegas economy can support so many fights in that short a time span,” Schaefer said, referring to the big fight cards planned between April and June: Brandon Rios vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa on April 14, Mayweather-Cotto on May 5, Amir Khan-Lamont Peterson on May 19 and Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley on June 9.

Schaefer said he hopes to finalize a deal with L.A. this week. He said if the fight were to remain in Las Vegas, it would be at the MGM Grand, the original site before Berto injured his arm in late January, forcing a postponement of the Feb. 11 date.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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