By Ryan Maquiñana
Seth Mitchell is going from one homecoming to another.
“It was great to be back there,” the former Michigan State linebacker and current heavyweight said of a visit to East Lansing in October to watch his alma mater defeat rival Michigan 28-14. “Now I’m ready to fight back home. It’s my turn now.”
While the Spartans eventually missed out on a Big Ten championship in the waning moments of the game against Wisconsin last week, Mitchell (23-0-1, 17 KOs) has vowed to emerge triumphant this Saturday against veteran Timur Ibragimov (30-3-1, 16 KOs) of Uzbekistan at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., which is a 40-minute drive from his hometown of Brandywine, Maryland.
With the bout marking his debut on HBO, the 29-year-old Mitchell spoke with BoxingScene.com about the intangibles surrounding this particular training camp and what he plans to accomplish fighting in front of a very familiar crowd.
BoxingScene: Thanks for taking time out, Seth. Tell me how it feels to be able to fight so close to home.
Mitchell: It feels good not to have to travel. I’m going to have that big hometown support. Promotion has been going well. I had a great training camp. I haven’t fought here since April 2010 so it’s been good to be back home.
BoxingScene: Have people come asking you for tickets?
Mitchell: (Laughs) I got about 25 tickets, and people who need to be taken care of will be taken care of. I’m not at that level yet. That’s a distraction I do not need right now.
BoxingScene: Now when you get a virtual hometown fight like this, there are a few inevitable differences, especially with the lack of seclusion making distractions like the one we just discussed much more apparent than usual. How has that affected your preparation?
Mitchell: When you fight at home, you have to remain focused. There are a lot of things I have to do now to promote the fight that I wouldn’t have had to do when I was fighting on the West Coast. Those things come into play but you have to do those things because it’s part of the business. So far it’s been going well. I haven’t had too many distractions heading into fight night.
BoxingScene: In your last outing, you looked impressive against Hector Ferreyro in September, stopping him in the third round. What lessons, if any, were you able to draw from that performance, as short as it was?
Mitchell: It was a short fight but I almost got to go three full rounds. I thought I put my punches together well. I thought I stayed behind my jab. There are still a few things I need to work on. For one, when I threw my right hand, I tended to drop my left hand, which is a no-no, especially against someone who has a good right hand to counter over the top.
Overall I thought it was a good performance. I threw good combinations and I cut the ring off. But there were still things to work on with my trainer, and hopefully I’ll correct them in time for Dec. 10th and I can give a good performance.
BoxingScene: Who have you been sparring? How long was camp?
Mitchell: I’ve been sparring with a lot of guys like Tony Thompson, Lateef Kayode, and an amateur you’ll all be hearing about soon in Danny Kelly. I’ve definitely been getting rounds and lots of different looks. Camp has been eight weeks, but I’ve really ramped it up six weeks in.
I’m in great shape now and the hardest days of camp are over. Everything’s going according to schedule. All the hard days are over. My last two days of sparring (earlier this week) I did three or four rounds. The rest is fine-tuning and keeping my body rejuvenated and ready for the 10th.
BoxingScene: You’re facing Timur Ibragimov, who has been inactive for a year, but is a step up from your last opponent and in his last fight gave former cruiserweight champ Jean Marc Mormeck all he could handle in a split decision.
Mitchell: It definitely is [a step up]. He’s a seasoned veteran. I respect him. I know he’s going to come prepared. He knows if he derails me and knocks me off, he puts himself back in the mix for some big fights.
He’s been in the ring with a lot of quality opponents. He’s never been stopped. He’s 30 wins, three losses, one draw, with 16 knockouts. So I respect him, but I’m not too worried about what he’s going to do as much as I’m concerned about the things I need to do to be successful and come out victorious.
BoxingScene: You expect to emerge victorious, but do you have a prediction on how you expect the fight will go?
Mitchell: A lot of people ask me if I’m looking for the knockout. I never really go out looking for them, although I have knocked out 10 of my last 11. I stick to my gameplan. I have speed and power, and when I’m on my A-game, it’s going to be hard for heavyweights to keep up with me. I won’t be out there reckless looking for a knockout, but if it comes, it comes.
BoxingScene: You’ve basically kept the same team since the beginning, with trainer Andre Hunter and manager Sharif Salim, before signing with Golden Boy and adding advisor Al Haymon. This fight will be your first one on HBO. Is there any added motivation there for Team Mitchell as if you have something to prove to silence your critics, or have you approached things as business as usual?
Mitchell: Not really. I understand the business. You want to look impressive. I wouldn’t be on HBO right now if I was 23-0-1 with five or six knockouts. It’s because of the buzz I’m creating. He’s in shape. He throws a lot of punches. He looks strong. He looks menacing, and he’s knocking out everybody. People want to see excitement, and win, lose, or draw, I come to fight.
I have an entertaining style. And if the other guy comes to fight, the fans are in for a treat. I know this is HBO, and I want to stay on this level, so I know I have to be impressive. But at the same time, I don’t want to be too aggressive where I get caught with stupid shots. But I’m ready for this step and I’m excited about it.
BoxingScene: Is there anything you do as a ritual before a fight to get you ready on a psychological level?
Mitchell: Not really. We might intensify our training in certain areas, but I just train hard and I pray a lot. When I pray, I don’t ask for victory, but for God to give me the strength to do what I’ve been trained to do. I pray that me and my opponent don’t suffer serious injury in the ring, and that I don’t underestimate my opponent as well. I always have work ethic and determination, but I always pray for that strength.
BoxingScene: The Beltway, or the D.M.V. (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) area has always been a hotbed for boxing talent. From Pernell Whitaker, Sugar Ray Leonard, to Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, it’s always been a factory. Look at the Olympic Trials; a huge portion of the fighters are from there. Now you have up-and-comers like you and Gary Russell Jr. It begs me to ask, why do you think big promoters have taken so long to bring big shows back to the region?
Mitchell: You know, that’s a funny question. I don’t know. It’s been 18 years I think since HBO’s been in the D.C. area. You named a lot of good fighters and a lot of good pros, so your guess is as good as mine. All I can say is that hopefully we give them a good performance on December 10th, and it’ll keep them coming back.
Ryan Maquiñana is the boxing correspondent at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and Ring Magazine’s Ratings Advisory Panel. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at www.maqdown.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.