by David P. Greisman, live at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City
The bandwagon nearly came crashing to an abrupt halt for the man anointed as the next great American heavyweight.
Seth Mitchell was reeling around the ring, his legs failing him, trying to hold on as Chazz Witherspoon kept hitting him with hard shot after hard shot.
And the first round wasn’t even over yet.
But Mitchell survived the onslaught and went on to return the favor. He hurt Witherspoon two rounds later, scored a knockdown and then made sure that he wouldn’t make the same mistake Witherspoon had — clobbering Witherspoon relentlessly and forcing the referee to jump in for a third-round technical knockout victory.
This was Seth Mitchell’s biggest test yet for a former college football player who had turned boxing pro barely four years ago. Witherspoon had come up short in his own biggest tests, losing to Chris Arreola and Tony Thompson, but he’d put together four straight wins and was now working under acclaimed trainer Virgil Hunter.
“I’m going to be honest, I was a little nervous for this fight, because he has a lot of experience and I knew he was coming to fight,” Mitchell said afterward. “In the heavyweight division it only takes one shot. I could see it in his eyes: He was coming for me.”
Witherspoon controlled the opening moments with his jab and circling movement, not allowing Mitchell to set his feet. Mitchell kept coming forward, and then suddenly he was sent in retreat. Witherspoon walloped Mitchell with hard right hands, and while Mitchell tried to hold on, Witherspoon kept coming, right hand after right hand rocking Mitchell.
He made it out of the round, however, and came back in the second, dedicating hard shot after hard shot to Witherspoon’s body.
“I never stopped using my body shots,” Mitchell said. “They were slowing him down, and he had no defense for them.”
Mitchell scored a knockdown early in the third round, throwing a left hook at the same time Witherspoon did. Mitchell’s landed, however, and sent Witherspoon down. Witherspoon rose at six, but now it was his legs that were gone, and now it was Mitchell landing hard right hand after hard right hand.
Mitchell slugged away at a Witherspoon who was on the ropes both literally and figuratively. Referee Randy Neumann jumped in, first appearing to be stopping the bout, then appearing to be giving a technical knockdown count, then waved the bout off.
The time of the stoppage was 2:31.
“I got a little excited after I got him hurt,” Witherspoon said afterward. “I never got back to fighting smart. He dealt with adversity great. I was fighting a stupid fight after I got him hurt. I was just looking for the knockout.”
Witherspoon had landed 24 power shots in the first round compared to 7 for Mitchell, according to CompuBox. Yet Mitchell closed the show with 51 power shots in the final two rounds, compared to 11 for Witherspoon.
Mitchell, 29, of Brandywine, Md., improves to 25-0-1 (19 KOs). Witherspoon, 30, of Philadelphia, falls to 30-3 (22 KOs).
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]