By Jake Donovan
Seth Mitchell is a fighter.
Ten years ago, few if any would believe that statement to ever be true. When you could ball like he could, there were no other visions than of the standout linebacker making it big in the NFL.
An injury suffered in 2005 put an end to his dreams of going pro, or even emerging to the superstar level in college. After graduating from Michigan State a year later, he gravitated towards boxing after watching fellow college baller Tom Zbikowski make his pro debut at Madison Square Garden.
Five years after putting on a pair of gloves for the first time, Mitchell is now being mentioned as the possible future face of a hoped-for revamped American heavyweight boxing scene.
No matter how far he makes it in boxing, Mitchell now has a new goal in mind – serve as an inspiration for others.
“I want everyone to know that with hard work dreams can come true,” insists Mitchell (23-0-1, 17KO), who has fought his way to the HBO level, making his debut on December 10 against former con tender Timur Ibragimov.
The fight takes place in Washington, D.C., not very far from his hometown of Brandywine, Maryland.
Mitchell is no stranger to enjoying home field advantage, with nearly half of his career – all three years and 24 fights of it, to date – taking place in the D.C./Baltimore area.
There’s a different feel to this fight, however. It’s his first in-ring appearance back home in nearly two years, and comes on his biggest platform yet. A huge crowd in anticipated, largely for the main event with D.C.’s own Lamont Peterson vying for the unified super lightweight crown against Amir Khan.
Mitchell’s own placement on the show has created a considerable amount of buzz, which doesn’t leave the chiseled heavyweight with a sense of entitlement, but rather an obligation to make them want to see him in the ring again.
“I like being back home, and I know a lot of fans are coming out to see me, some for the first time. I have to go out there and win, but I also have a responsibility to look good while winning."
Geography doesn’t have as much to do with the equation as marketability. HBO and Golden Boy Promotions see a product that can be marketed, a concept that Mitchell has embraced from the moment he donned his first pair of gloves.
“I probably wouldn't be on this card if I was 23-0 with 6 or 7 KO's,” Mitchell believes. “People want to be excited and entertained. I want to get the KO but not overaggressive doing so. I want the ‘W’ but also look good doing it as well.”
It’s that type of focus that has Mitchell moved up to the top of the ‘save our souls’ mentality of the American boxing fan in search of a heavyweight to rally around. It also goes a long way in explaining his ability to make such a splash in a short amount of time.
To say Mitchell’s amateur career was brief would be an understatement. Once properly acclimating himself to the sport after donning a pair of gloves for the first time in his life in 2006, the former linebacker prepared to sack the competition inside the ring. His stay in the non-pay ranks lasted long –or short – enough to amass a record of 9-1 (9KO) before turning pro in 2008.
Whether by merit or by opportunity, his backstory was enough to convince a pair of boxing powerbrokers to hook up with him. By his second pro fight, Mitchell was being represented by top promoter Golden Boy Promotions.
The dynamic duo helped pushed him from just another former college athlete-turned-pro into someone worth talking about in a very short amount of time. Of course, their influence only goes so far in hyping up a fighter. At some point, the fighter himself has to show everyone that he’s well worth the time and ink being dedicated to raising awareness.
To date, this particular fighter continues to deliver.
“I’m being moved along great by my team and couldn’t be happier with the progress made,” Mitchell states in appreciation of the hard work others have invested into his career. “I'm coming up on four years, and 24 fights already. I'm looking to big things in 2012 and –with no setbacks – hopefully a world title shot in 2013.”
These days, a title shot seems to be the point where most American heavyweights ultimately disappoint their fans.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have enjoyed a stranglehold atop the heavyweight mountain for years. Vitali has won nearly every round of every fight since his return in 2008, while Wlad hasn’t lost in over seven years. More than five of those years have been spent as a titlist and the past 30 months as the reigning lineal World heavyweight champion.
A number of top American challengers have stepped to the Ukrainian brother act, several of them coming off career-best performances and riding a wave of momentum into their respective title fights.
The Klitschkos still stand tall, figuratively and literally. It’s their gift as well as their curse. While their dominance is largely appreciated, the means of victory seems to leave a lot to be desired.
Mitchell has a different take on that theory.
“I have a fan-friendly style, which is my appeal right now,” Mitchel explains. “A lot of people talk about the Klitschkos, claiming they can’t fight but are confusing that with not liking the way they fight. I respect what they can do. They're tall and don’t engage you on the inside, but that’s what they’re supposed to do. You don't give up your height.
“My theory is, ‘Don't knock 'em, just beat ‘em.’ Their style isn't that pleasing, but nobody has been able to do anything with them. Don’t talk about beating ‘em, just beat ‘em.”
By his own admission, Mitchell is at least a year away from even thinking about such a fight, perhaps even further if he doesn’t focus on the task at hand this weekend. The unbeaten heavyweight has been hard at work dating back to his originally scheduled HBO date, when he was supposed to appear on the network against Mike Mollo in late August.
Instead, he was forced to settle for a Telefutura fight against Hector Ferreyo three weeks later after the aforementioned card was scrapped due to its main event falling through. It took some work and effort to get him re-slotted on HBO, but everything fell into place once Khan agreed to travel to America’s capital nation for his title defense against Peterson.
From the moment Mitchell was asked to fill the co-feature slot, he has hit the gym hard and has also pounded the pavement in drawing interest from his legions of fans. The efforts expanded well beyond the grassroots level, as he made sure to hype up his fight during a recent return to his alma mater during homecoming weekend.
The trip back to Michigan State drew mixed emotions for Mitchell, who hadn’t been back since his pro career began. The homecoming part brought back incredible memories of his college days. But watching the present college squad in action on the gridiron brought back an old desire.
“I can’t lie, watching them on the field and hearing the crowd (Saturday night), I felt like I wanted to suit up,” Mitchell admitted. “Every time someone made a play, I thought about what I’d do in that same situation. I miss the team camaraderie.
“At the same time, I like that it all comes down on my shoulders. I have to do my sprints, my abs work, all that. I have to go to the gym and do my work. In football, you can have 10 out of 11 on the field doing their jobs, and that one guy can cost his team or the other ten can bail him out. In boxing, if I don’t do my job, it all comes down on me.”
His passion for his job as a boxer hasn’t replaced his love for what previously made him famous. If anything, he forever remains appreciative of the opportunities that football has provided – including the ability to switch professions while hardly missing a beat.
It's been a smooth transition. I put all of my attributes to God. When it comes to competing, if it's a video game or cards or whatever, my instincts always take over due to my competitiveness. I’m athletic and figure out how to put those attributes to work. Due to my size, 6’2” and 240 lbs., people think I can't move. But I enjoy proving people wrong.”
Once upon a time, he enjoyed it while suited up in full gear from head to toe and playing from whistle to whistle. Being back in Lansing, MI brought back all of those emotions, but at the same time remembering who is he is and how he prefers to be recognized now.
“I had chills at homecoming with everything going on. I played football for a long time. It will always be in me, but I'm a boxer now. Football is what I did. Boxing is what I do.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]