by Charles Jay
Seth Mitchell came back from much trouble in the first round of Saturday night’s fight with Chazz Witherspoon to score a stoppage in rather sensational fashion. This victory carried quite a bit of significance, and for good reason. You see, 40-year-old Tony Thompson is about to be dismissed again by Wladimir Klitschko on July 7. And people like Franklin Lawrence aren’t going to be a real factor in the heavyweight division, at least not for very long. Between those who have already had their shot at the Klitschkos and those either approaching 40 or already past it, what you have left is a group of interesting heavyweight prospects who are still a few steps away, and among them, Mitchell is looming as the leading American heavyweight “hope” if you’re one of those people who is looking for such a thing.
Yet he is far from being a complete and/or polished fighter. Sure, his punch is dangerous, and he appears to have learned to throw a very effective left hook. But he could have used a couple of first-round picks in the recent NFL Draft to bolster his defense. One would have to raise questions about his stamina as well, as he’s been eight rounds only once.
Because of the position he has assumed; because the heavyweight ranks are thin, there’s the possibility we could see him rushed into a fight with one of the Klitschko brothers. This just in: they’re not speed merchants, but by the same token, they aren’t going to be standing there to let him pound away on the inside as Witherspoon did. They’re going to test his patience and resourcefulness, and I don’t know how much of a supply of either of those things he’s got right now.
But no one can really hold that against him, because his story has been so incredible and improbable thus far. You hear the HBO announcers constantly raving about the fact that Sergio Martinez didn’t take up boxing until he was twenty years old. I don’t know that his story holds a candle to what Mitchell has done.
Here’s a guy who has already had an athletic career which held some promise, as a football player, and he had that career cut short due to a knee injury. He didn’t even begin to think of boxing until he watched a player he stood across the field from when at Michigan State – Tom Zbikowski of Notre Dame and the Baltimore Ravens – make his pro debut as a fighter.
In a sport filled with competitors who have been at it since they were pre-teens, Mitchell has had gloves on for just a little over five years. Does anybody realize how difficult it is to get this far in that short a period of time? And there haven’t exactly been a lot of people paving the way for him either. Save for Charlie Powell, football players have had a long history of falling well short when it comes to stepping into a boxing ring.
What you can say about Mitchell is that he has “upside.” Usually when that terms like “upside” and “potential” are used in the business, it means they just haven’t accomplished anything yet.
With Mitchell, “upside” would refer to something considerably more substantial. He has been at it for such a short period that he should at least have some time to develop some more in terms of the subtleties that are involved in his adopted trade. While it is true that he could rock anybody if he hits them on the chin, it is often the one mistake the opponent can exploit that leads to a loss which sends a fighter back into the middle of the pack. At this point, Mitchell leaves too many openings a savvy foe (i.e., either Klitschko) might be able to take advantage of.
Of course, the knee has to hold up, and that’s an important point since he could be classified as “damaged goods.” He had to be redshirted as a freshman at Michigan State when he sprained his Medial Collateral Ligament, and then continued to suffer knee problems throughout his college football career. In all, he has had seven surgical procedures on his left knee. Boxing places less of a strain on that than football does, but it is a chronic injury problem nonetheless.
The Klitschkos are getting up in age and are probably not going to be around all that much longer. Beyond them, things are kind of wide open in the heavyweight division. Mitchell could be a guy who contends for that throne eventually, but not now. Maybe he should have the opportunity to fully develop into the “hope” many figure he is, as there is still so much he can learn….provided he stays healthy, of course.