By Thomas Gerbasi
Finally. After 28 fights and nearly nine years as a professional, Sechew Powell had his world title shot. All he had to do was beat someone he had previously knocked out in 22 seconds, Cornelius Bundrage, in fight number 29.
It didn’t happen. At the Family Arena in Saint Charles, Missouri last June, Bundrage evened the score with the Brooklynite, retaining his IBF junior middleweight title via unanimous decision. Powell, 32, now had to take a good, hard look in the mirror and figure out whether he wanted to take another stab at his dream, even though the first one took him almost a decade.
“Deep down, as much as I knew it was a major setback, when I woke up the next morning, the passion was still there,” Powell told BoxingScene. “It was more of a thing like ‘Sechew, you just made this thing a whole lot harder for yourself.’ (Laughs) But again, this is a lifelong goal and dream I’ve had. I was a few miles away, and now the location just moved a couple hundred miles away, and I knew that. But I still wanted to go after it.”
Little did he know that he would wind up back in Missouri just seven months later, facing former two-division champ Cory Spinks in an IBF title eliminator tomorrow night in Springfield. It’s a dose of good fortune for a young man who always had plenty of talent, but not as much good luck.
That’s not to say that he didn’t have his chances, but key losses at the wrong times to Kassim Ouma and Deandre Latimore put him in a position where he was often waiting more than fighting. After competing in three bouts in 2008, Powell only fought once each in 2009, 2010, and 2011, not the type of activity you want to see for a fighter in his physical prime. The Bundrage rematch had the potential to put all the what ifs to rest, and in the lead-up to the fight, Powell was amped up and apparently on track to win his first world title. And the way he saw it, even a 15 month layoff wasn’t going to deter him on his way to victory. That wasn’t exactly the case though.
“I thought the layoff wouldn’t be a problem because I had a year and two months layoff when I fought Latimore for the second time, and I had an awesome night and did whatever I needed to do,” said Powell. “So I didn’t think it would be a factor at all, but it was to a certain extent, and it wasn’t so much the physical part of it, but more the mental part of it, and being out of the ring for so long did play a small part. But that wasn’t really the cause for me not being able to perform to the best of my ability that night. I made a few mistakes that a guy at my level should never make, and it cost me big.”
The biggest was eating sushi after the weigh-in, and after a night spent getting sick and not rehydrating properly, Powell was spent before the first bell even rang.
“It was Murphy’s Law,” he said. “Everything that you thought could go bad after the weigh-ins actually did.”
Sushi in Missouri? Come on Powell, you’re a New Yorker.
“Talk about a rookie mistake,” he laughs. “It was a horrible thing. But I also believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe the man upstairs was giving me a sign that it’s not now – there’s something else I need to learn or something else I need to do.”
Following the bout, Powell was back in the gym with trainer Angel Rivera, continuing to hone his craft and getting ready to make good on his potential whenever the phone rang. And once it did with the Spinks fight, he also decided on another course of action that he believes will pay dividends in the future.
“I’ve gotten ahead of myself in many instances, feeling really good before a fight physically and mentally, and it caused me to be super confident, and when I talk to the media ‘oh, I’m gonna do this and do that,’” he said. “And when, in retrospect, it didn’t happen, it made me out to look like a guy who just runs his mouth and doesn’t produce. So I learned not to get ahead of myself. The job is not done until it’s over, and that’s the attitude I have today.”
It’s a surprising admission from Powell, as he’s never been an over the top trash talker. Instead, he’s always been one of the game’s true gentlemen, and one you want to see succeed. But he’s also a realist, and he knows the pitfalls of his sport and what kind of scars it can leave if you stick around too long.
“I was explaining to a friend of mine that if I couldn’t do this at the highest level, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “Fighting is dangerous and it’s nothing to play around with. And it’s not a good way to earn a check as well. There are better ways to earn money than to put your health on the line in fighting. It is direct brutality against you and the guy that you’re facing. So if I couldn’t do it at the highest level to where the world could see it and I could get that respect and acclaim as a champion, I wouldn’t compete anymore. I watch guys that do it for a check and because it’s the only thing that they know and I don’t think I’ll ever be that guy who does it because that’s all I know. I would go and learn something else.”
“Luckily enough,” he continues, “I haven’t been in the kind of fight I call a car accident. In my opinion, a really rough, tough ass whuppin’ in a fight is like a car accident, and you’re never the same afterwards. Luckily for me, in all my years as a fighter, I haven’t been in that kind of fight.”
And it’s unlikely to happen Saturday night against Cory Spinks, who at 33 or 23 has always been a technician and not a terminator. The question is, after losing three of his last five bouts, and only fighting once a year since 2007, does the pride of St. Louis have anything left to offer at the world-class level of the game?
“He (Spinks) was a champion as recent as 2010, so in a sense, yes, this is a guy who is a three-time world champion in two divisions, and I feel like there are certain things, as a boxer, that you’re never gonna lose,” said Powell. “Is he still that same formidable guy? Probably not, but I’m looking for the best Cory Spinks, the Cory Spinks who beat Ricardo Mayorga, even though somewhere in my mind I kinda know that he’s not that guy anymore. But I’ve been training for the best Cory Spinks.”
Even less than the best Spinks could give Powell trouble though, as the one Achilles heel the New Yorker has had is dealing with his fellow southpaws. In fact, two of Powell’s three pro defeats (Ouma, Latimore) have come against lefties.
“For me personally, because most fighters are orthodox fighters, you grow accustomed to fighting that kind of angle, and your training and your strategies and everything you learn is to combat fighting from the orthodox stance,” Powell explains. “Southpaws, because in the past there weren’t so many of them, it was like looking at a whole different fight. But in recent times I’ve fought with some really good southpaws, and I think I learned a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable today than I ever did before with a southpaw. The biggest problem I had was getting away from the left hand and that’s another thing I feel comfortable about today. So I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem this time around.”
Another issue may be fighting in Spinks’ home state of Missouri, where, whether deservedly so or not, there is always the specter of a close decision going to the local hero.
Powell is preparing accordingly.
“It is his backyard, it’s his house, and I know going in that I’m the underdog and he’s the premier guy in the state of Missouri,” said “The Iron Horse.” “And I understand that I’m gonna have to go after this guy and double whatever he does and that’s the way I’ve been training. I’m training to outwork him, beat him up, and what I really want to do is get him out of there. I don’t want to see 12 rounds, even though I’m prepared to go the distance.”
It may be now or never for Sechew Powell, and you get the feeling that he knows it. It’s not desperation in his voice though; what he has is a sense that he’s been given another opportunity to make something happen in his career, and that when you reach a certain point, the chances to grab the gold ring become rarer and rarer. So he needs to succeed now.
“Right now I find my back against the wall,” he said. “I was, at a certain point, a hot commodity in boxing. I was at least on people’s ‘to do’ list when it came to boxing and I kinda fell off that list. But I have a hunger to be there again and go even beyond that. I want to be a world champion. I’ve been boxing for a long time, I’ve accomplished a lot as an amateur, and it would just be the capstone of my career to become a world champion. It’s something I just feel like I need for my legacy. I just need to be a world champion to prove to myself that I always had what it took to be that guy. As you get older, it gets harder. Combat in any form is a young man’s sport. It’s for the young, fit, and fast guys. But I still feel fit enough, and I’m way more experienced enough to get the job done. I just want to get this title to cap off my career and give me something to be proud of myself about. I just want to be recognized by all fight fans around the world, and I want all boxing fans to one day say ‘man, he’s good, what a good champion.’ That’s what drives me.”