by David P. Greisman
A lot can change in a year.
Right now Seth Mitchell is a heavyweight prospect getting set for his second appearance on HBO, an April 28 bout against Chazz Witherspoon.
In a year, he could be fighting for a world title.
That’s the goal, according to Sharif Salim, Mitchell’s manager, who makes the case about why his fighter would be ready by then to take on the best of boxing’s big men.
Salim spoke recently with BoxingScene.com about his fighter’s upcoming bout with Witherspoon, about why he feels this is a good fight for Mitchell, about what Mitchell needs to improve on, and more.
BoxingScene.com: Let’s talk about Seth Mitchell’s next fight, against Chazz Witherspoon. Seth told me you all had been looking at fighting Chazz for about eight months now. Why did you want him as an opponent for this point in Seth’s career?
Sharif Salim: “Actually, there’s about four reasons. No 1, it’s definitely the developmental scope and sequence of the ongoing flourishing of Seth Mitchell as a boxer. We definitely consider Chazz Witherspoon another one of the rising American heavyweights. We’ve been charting him, and we see that he’s really grown, as Seth has grown, exponentially, so we see that developmentally as a good next step for Seth Mitchell. That’s probably the first reason. As a manager, I have to improve my guy. We don’t want to take backward steps.
“The second reason, it’s somewhat territorial. Pennsylvania and Maryland are neighboring states, and Chazz Witherspoon’s home is probably less than 100 miles from Seth Mitchell’s. So it’s kind of like the bragging rights of Middle Atlantic states, if you will. That has its appeal.
“I think the third reason, I really like boxing to go beyond the typical boxing fan. And I think this is a promoter’s dream, particularly a strong co-main event that features two young African-Americans coming up the ranks, and both of them happen to have college degrees. I think that’s a beautiful thing. Witherspoon’s is in pharmaceutical [marketing] and Seth’s is in criminal justice from Michigan State. I think that has its appeal, talking more as a promoter now than as a manager.
“And the fourth reason is that we knew early on that HBO favors this fight. We knew that almost a year ago. And if HBO favors it and we’re on the network, of course that means more money and more widespread appeal. So those are probably the four main reasons that we want to fight Chazz Witherspoon.”
BoxingScene.com: You mentioned thinking as a manager as developing Seth. He’s in the position where he’s in the spotlight so early in his career but you still have a job to do as a manager. Developmentally speaking, where do you think Seth needs to go, and what does he need to improve on to get to the pinnacle of where he can be?
Salim: “I believe, Seth of course only having 10 amateur fights, and everyone knows he’s a former Big 10 football star — the athleticism, yes, he had that from Day 1. But just like I think I heard Tiger Woods changed his swing about four, five times, and I said ‘Why?’ Why? Because he just wants to get better.
“So there’s a lot of things that Seth can improve on: Counterpunching, countering off of misses, because he has a wonderful ability to make opponents miss. We just have to take advantage of that more. Increase hand speed. Early on, I told Seth we’re going to work on ‘SIP’ — Speed is power. You don’t have to throw hard. You just have to throw quick. That will be the power itself. So we believe in that principle of speed is power.
“He has, believe me, for a fighter that’s only fought a few years, he has incredible ring generalship, but just a little bit of movement will help him — and I have so many acronyms and initials — DMO. Defense Makes Offense, which goes back to countering off of misses. He’s improved on that. But I think just working on SIP, speed is power, working on DMO, defense makes offense, and a little bit of head movement, all those types of things that are really becoming natural with him.
“Those are things that we definitely need to work on. He has a beautiful jab, one of the best jabs in the business. I think, because he’s ambidextrous, he has incredible power in both hands. This guy bench-pressed 420 at one time. That’s a strong guy.”
BoxingScene.com: There are expectations that come along with being in the HBO spotlight, even though it’s coming to Seth early in his career. I’ve seen some talk online from people who wanted a higher caliber of opponent for Seth than Chazz Witherspoon. What’s your take on that line of criticism?
Salim: “If you look at some of the opponents that the Klitschkos are putting in world championship fights these days, and if you look at the caliber of fighters that Seth actually fought very early on, guys who were okay journeymen but guys that people didn’t stop, but Seth was stopping these guys.
“The public is always going to want you to step up your game. Believe me, I think we are doing that. If they really research where Seth is right now, Chazz has 30 victories but 22 KOs. His only losses are against former No. 1 ranked and guys that fought for the world title, Chris Arreola and Tony Thompson. I think that’s an extremely credible opponent for Seth right now.
“I don’t know who else they want us to fight. Yes, we would fight the Denis Boytsovs and the Robert Heleniuses and the Tyson Furys. We don’t have a problem at this level right now where we are fighting these guys, but you know these guys are not going to come to America, and we want them to come to America. We’re fighting quality guys. Heck, his last couple of fights, guys that have had overwhelmingly winning records — the guy Timur Ibragimov had never been stopped in amateurs or pros, and we stopped this guy.
“The general public will never completely be satisfied. Right now, as long as a network like HBO is satisfied, we’re okay with that.”
BoxingScene.com: We heard the same kind of criticism when people were talking about Andre Ward earlier in his career, and Ward had a great nobody career. But nobody critiques him now. Seth told me that earlier in his career he checked out the records of guys like Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, and where they were at this point in their careers. They were fighting at about the same level, and they had more amateur experience than Seth.
Salim: “Absolutely. If you look at the guys Riddick Bowe before he fought Holyfield for the title, these guys were not top-notch guys. Even at some of the lower weights, I vividly recall Keith Holmes fighting a six-rounder before he fought for the title. The public is always going to complain. I think we’re doing okay. We’re asking for these second-tier fighters. We are. We admittedly are saying we’re ‘Not quite yet’ for the Klitschkos.
“We plan on running through the people in front of us, and then we’ll take it to the next, higher step, which is the world championship, hopefully in 2013. That’s what I mean by developmental. That’s what I mean by your scope, where you are right now, and your sequential order. That’s what we’re trying to do. Sorry I’m talking like a former principal, but I am a former high-school principal.”
BoxingScene.com: When you say you want to go for a world championship in early 2013, are you talking early next year or late next year?
Salim: “We’re talking rather early 2013. We’re talking about late winter, early spring 2013. I believe we’ll be ready. We hopefully will fight four fights this year. With that, I could definitely see the very next fight being for the belt.
“Hopefully some of these guys will accommodate us, but at the same time, maybe give us a few rounds. Seth and I both thought that this [Ibragimov] fight would go seven or eight rounds, at least. We kind of thought we would get Ibragimov, but we didn’t think we’d get him so early. But hey, that’s why we stay in shape all the time.”
BoxingScene.com: It’s amazing to think, however, that in a year Seth could be facing a Klitschko brother, but that doesn’t seem too soon to you.
Salim: “Not at all. Not at all. Let me tell you something: We study tapes assiduously. We work on things over and over again, and we have some very good sparring that has come our way. We put a lot of things in practice. Seth goes right back to the gym right after he fights, usually. The guy is in great shape. He doesn’t have to make weight, but he always comes in around 242 or 244. Last fight, 241. So we’re going to be ready. We don’t have to worry about that.
“And we definitely believe, like anybody else, that the Klitschkos are beatable. No question about it. You put a good plan in there. You’re in good condition. We look at weaknesses, which everybody has, and we try to exploit those weaknesses. So when we’re ready and get a few more rounds under our belt, we’re not getting in there to last, we’re not going over there to just be a diminutive and rather diffident and shy — no, we’re going in there to win and to knock these guys out.”
BoxingScene.com: Are there certain guys that you want Seth to face after Chazz Witherspoon, certain names or levels of names?
Salim: “I would just say, instead of calling out names, I would say guys that have tremendously respectable records, guys that have been former titlists, and guys who have been, as I call it, maybe even victims of Klitschkos, and there’s a whole bunch of them out there.
“We want to fight those level guys, say, good lord willing, we get by Chazz Witherspoon. And there’s so many of them, actually, at this point. Former titlists. Former titlists that have been there and done that. I think that would be for apropos for our very next fight.”
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]