U.S. boxing fans have been bellyaching for years about the absence of an American heavyweight. The Brothers K, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, have ruled the big-boy roost for more than five years. Whether it is because of their style or the fact that they are from across the pond, Americans have, for the most part, tuned the Ukrainian behemoths out. That has been a shot to the liver to boxing because the U.S. is the epicenter of the sport and it is the heavyweights who bring in the crossover fans. No Tyson, Ali, or Frazier, and the guy with a causal interest in boxing does not tune in. But things could change.
There is an American in the wings who, within a year, might be able to challenge the NBA sized power punchers for the greatest prize in sports -- the heavyweight championship. The man with the promise is, Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell.
A former inside linebacker for Michigan State, the thirty-year-old Mitchell is 6'2 and boasts a record of 25-0-1, with 19 knockouts. Mitchell is agile as an inside linebacker, has quick hands and can bang with both hands. Though he only had a handful of amateur bouts, winning all but one by ko, he has been a quick study as a professional. In his last two outings "Mayhem" stopped heavyweight contenders, Chazz Witherspoon and Timur Ibragimov. On Saturday in Atlantic City, Mitchell will face another exami in his fistic education when he toes the line with master boxer and Emanuel Steward protégé, Johnathon Banks, (28-1-1, 18 knockouts).
In order to challenge either of the Klitschkos a fighter needs to have the speed to get inside their long reach, the mettle and balance to work when you get in there, and, especially with Wladimir, the power to compel their attention. Thanks to his work at the upper echelons of the gridiron arts, Mitchell is not intimidated by size. As a former linebacking sensation, he has great footwork and the ability to cut of the ring on his opponents.
Against Witherspoon, and after almost being put to sleep, Mitchell landed some pulverizing body shots to set up his third round TKO victory. More significant, in the first stanza of their bout, Witherspoon hurt Mitchell badly with a right hand. Instead of getting sucked into a macho response, Mitchell tied up Witherspoon until his head cleared. In the elite levels of the bruising art, a fighter has to be able to cope with getting rocked and keeping his wits when he has been knocked out of his balance and the arena seems to be spinning around. Unlike football, there are no time outs in the squared circle. But Mitchell passed that big test -- big time.
But then again, the Suzie Q's of both Klitschkos come with crushing impact. I asked Mitchell what aspects of boxing he was working on these days, and he was quick to note, "moving my head and bringing my jab back straight" and so to avoid that counter right. He is also trying to remind his thickly muscled body to bring that hook in behind his 1-2 combination -- bring it in without falling into his opponent, losing his balance, and smothering his vaunted power.
Mitchell, who had to take a respite from the ring for a couple of months because of knuckle injury, is by no means thinking along the lines of writers like me. He is not looking beyond the formidable challenge in front of him -- namely, Mr. Banks. The Maryland native made it clear, "Banks has a lot of experience. He spars with the Klitschkos all the time and is a great counter puncher. He also has a powerful right hand. But he likes to go at his pace and I have to make him fight at mine. In this fight, I am aiming to bring out my innate athleticism a little more than I have in the past." If all goes well, Mitchell hopes to be in the ring again in February.