by David P. Greisman
Some boxing fans and observers questioned the move — getting Seth Mitchell into an immediate rematch with Johnathan Banks instead of putting the heavyweight prospect into tune-up bouts in which he could rebuild from his first loss as a pro boxer.
But to Mitchell and members of his team, it was absolutely the right move to make.
They not only felt that the loss to Banks in November shouldn’t have happened, but that the right adjustments could be made to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again in the February rematch.
Sharif Salim, who manages the 30-year-old Maryland boxer, spoke to BoxingScene.com in early January about Banks-Mitchell 2, which will take place on Feb. 16 in Atlantic City on the undercard of Adrien Broner vs. Gavin Rees.
BoxingScene.com: Why have Seth take this immediate rematch with Banks? Why not have a tune-up bout first?
Salim: “Well, we like to look at the Johnathon Banks fight as an aberration. And we feel that, thus deservingly, he [Banks] won the fight. He was the better man that night. But we truly believe that Seth is the better fighter between Johnathon Banks and Seth Mitchell.
“And we feel that in getting him into a training camp and working on, as we always do, some of his deficiencies, some of his weaknesses, enhancing and embellishing some of his strengths, working on patience and discipline and balance — I believe that 90 days, or however long a stretch that is, is adequate and appropriate time. I believe that he was the right opponent when we fought him in November, and I believe he is still the right opponent.
“He’s not a tune-up. I’m not calling this fight, by no stretch, a tune-up. This is a formidable person. And we don’t want to get caught up in devaluing other fighters. We want to now fight all top 12, top 10 fighters. So again, we had our belt taken, the NABO belt, and we want to get it back.
“And since Seth didn’t suffer any cuts or any internal bleeding or anything like that, we thought it was apropos to go right back into a rematch, since we definitely put a rematch clause in there. There’s absolutely no need for a tune-up. Let’s go and get our belt back. We felt it was an aberration. Let’s get Seth back into, you know, the stride and the momentum that we had before.”
BoxingScene.com: It seems to me to be a calculated gamble, but a necessary gamble — a gamble that he can make the changes and adjustments in this relatively short time in order to win this fight, but a necessary gamble because Seth might not otherwise get the money that he was getting the money or the spotlight that he was getting before.
Salim: “Well, it’s not just all about the money. But we want to be considered, absolutely. We want to stay relevant. There’s no question about that. And we know that in fights, well, guys lose and they have to get back in line. At heavyweight, there’s not a very long line to get back in. We just feel to get back on Johnathon Banks, do what we should have done in the first place, then I think we’ll be back on stride.
“Oh, I think everybody will say, ‘Well, Seth has a weak chin’ and all those types of things. They can say what they have to say. ‘Well, look what Chazz [Witherspoon] did to him. Jonathon, he put him out in the second round.’ We all understand that, too. It’s a part of it. It’s a very unforgiving sport. But at the same time, if we can take care of business, get him out of there, then this rematch will put us right back on stride where we need to be.
“If Seth was maybe 22 years old, I might not be taking it right away. But Seth is 30 years old. Seth already has several big wins over some good people. And at the same time, since we had proven that the guy’s a banger, he still has that eraser, that punching power that can change a fight in a moment, we feel that it’s best to get right back in there.”
BoxingScene.com: You say that he’s got the eraser, but you also acknowledge what other people are accusing Seth of having; they point to the Chazz fight and to the Banks fight. Do you feel that he now needs to be cautious when it comes to his chin?
Salim: “Well, we’ve always worked on defense. I’ve always been satisfied with his offense. I’ve always had a feeling that there could be some improvements defensively. I’ve always had a feeling that there could be improvements on everything from balance to footwork to overall patience. And I believe that if he applies that this next fight, I believe that the results will definitely be quite different and in our favor.
“But we must be careful, and we must take our time. With the camp that we’re about to go to next week, I think that we’re going to really work on those things, and we’ve got some good people coming in. I think that he’s going to be alright. If I didn’t think so, believe me, I wouldn’t have done this rematch right away, and believe me, Golden Boy would not have approved of it. They have put their faith in my decision to make this thing happen right away.”
BoxingScene.com: You mentioned his camp. I know he’s been in the gym since two weeks after the loss to Banks. Is this the beginning of a true training camp?
Salim: “This is a camp that will take him away for, I think, five weeks. He’s always in shape. We don’t really need a six-week camp. It’s about a four-hour drive from his home and will be up in the hills. It’s going to be a true camp atmosphere.”
BoxingScene.com: Are there different sparring partners for this fight than for previous bouts, when he had Donnell Holmes and Joe Rabotte?
Salim: “We’ve decided to get some different sparring partners, some guys that can bring it, some guys that are good counter punchers. We want some guys that can really bring it, guys that can really hit, and guys that can more emulate Johnathon Banks, but have pop.”
BoxingScene.com: You said that if Seth beats Banks in the rematch that he’s back on the stride that he once was…
Salim (cutting in): “Well, not quite there yet, but it would be putting him in a position that we would want to be in.”
BoxingScene.com: I know you don’t want to consider this possibility, but what happens with his career if he doesn’t win this fight?
Salim: “We still would work hard, but it would be, quite frankly, a major setback. We’re aware of it. We would have to be on different venues. We know that. Different pay scales. We understand that. It is not quite do or die, but it’s pretty close to it, as far as marketing, endorsements, as far as rankings, scale of pay, venues, you name it. It would be a major, major setback.”
BoxingScene.com: But obviously you’re confident in him, and in his trainer, Andre Hunter, and everyone, can get him exactly where he needs to be.
Salim: “Not only confident, but with unlimited enthusiasm heading into this fight.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]