"Absolutely, with me personally, I was already bulked up and had a lot of girth on me and so when I started to box, I almost completely left the weights alone and I had to let my muscles elongate and that allows me to breathe better and allows me to be able to go rounds. So that was one of the biggest transitions that I had to do- to learn to how to relax in the ring. And just leave the heavy lifting alone and when I did lift weights, just a lot of repetitions. In football, it’s more of an explosive power, so they have to lift to bulk up to get strong, so I don’t see how that’s going to work as a boxer."
Football has a familiar pattern of a short burst of violent activity that lasts a few seconds, then a break of around 45 seconds where the players regroup, huddle and then line up. Boxing consists of a three-minute interval followed by a 60-second rest period. Football can be described as a sprint with a collision at the end of the finish line. Boxing is a steady jog where you are continuously getting hit. While everyone speaks of having to learn the fundamentals of boxing, what’s even more difficult for these bulked-up athletes is learning how to relax and breathe freely without tensing up.
"Absolutely," said Mitchell, who is 6’2” and weighs in the 240-pound range, "that was the toughest transition. Playing middle linebacker taking on those guards, when I made contact, I had to be erect. I had to be ’boom,’ come up and step in that hole and be compact. But coming from football to boxing, that was my biggest difficulty, learning how to be relaxed, learning how to roll with punches. Sometimes you get hit; it might look like it’s a real hard punch on TV but it’s just a quick turn of the shoulder or a quick turn of the cheek and you’re able to take so much power off that punch.
"So relaxing and breathing in the ring is definitely one of my biggest things that I’ve improved on. I still need to improve on it some more."
Much of that is predicated on changing the structure of Mitchell’s physique and making it a more fuel efficient vehicle.
"My body, it probably took about a good 18 months. I mean, I lost the weight and even now today, people look at me and I weigh the same as I did when I played football but my body looks totally different," said Mitchell, who had notched 103 tackles for the Spartans in the 2003 campaign. "And that’s because my muscles, like I said, they had to elongate and had to leave the weights alone and become leaner and lose the body fat and not as much heavy muscle on me, now."
As he started to make the transition to boxing, Mitchell’s former teammates and friends had a hard time believing that he was getting inside the squared circle. In fact, they still can’t fully comprehend it.
"I was just talking to one of my buddies, Ashton Watson; when I first decided to box, we went up to a gym and I forgot the dude’s name- but it was this Russian- but he was hitting this heavy bag. I mean, he was sounding off," Mitchell recalled. "He looked real good and I told Ashton, ’Tomorrow, I’m gonna spar him,’ and he looked at me and said, ’Man, you crazy. You see how he’s hitting that heavy bag? He’s going to kill you.’ But the next day I got in there, I handled my own. I did very well against him. We chuckled at that because [Watson] was crazy to think I would get in there and spar with [the Russian] the very next day.
"But like I said, I know where my talent comes from and it comes from God and I’m just blessed, man, and I don’t take it from granted. Athletic talent will not get it alone. You have to be humble; you have to work hard and it’s just something I pride myself on."
The irony for Mitchell, in lieu of the incoming evidence of the long-term effects football can have on its participants, is that boxing might be the safer vocation. Mitchell states, "In certain respects, I think it is. It all depends on the type of fighter. Let’s say, like a Floyd Mayweather, who rarely takes a lot of punishment. I think that plays a big difference in how much you get hit and things of that nature. Like when you’re playing defensive line or offensive line, every play, you’re getting hit in the head. Now a QB would be different. It varies, depending on the positions you play. If you’re like a Tom Brady and you have that dynamite offensive line and you’re never getting hit, you can play for 20 years."
Mitchell began his pro run in 2008 and he has worked his record to 21-0-1 (15) and he is now at the stage where he is facing veteran trial horses like Taurus Sykes and Charles Davis. He’s come a long way in that period of time but this is a process where Mitchell still has to account for his overall inexperience since he didn’t have a long amateur background to fall back on. Also, having began boxing in his mid-20s, the learning curve is also adjusted. His progress will come in incremental steps that will hopefully, for his sake, come faster as the years go on.
"It’s like my trainer and manager, we talk about our progress. There’s little steps and then, boom, there’s a big growth spurt, a big learning curve and I believe I still have a long ways to go but I think I’m getting a lot better and I gotta just continue to study my craft and get better," he says. "But I think in a year’s time, I’m a lot better than a year ago."
As Mitchell now gets slotted on cards that are televised by Showtime, it’s clear that 2011 is a pivotal year in his development.
"Hands down, I truly believe that I’m ready," said Mitchell, who is just 28 years old, still very young for a heavyweight. "There’s a lot of people that are ranked ahead of me that I feel if we fought today, I would beat them; I would win. It would be a good match, so I definitely feel that this is my year to become a contender. My first year was just to prove that I could fight. I look the part; I got the body. I’m an athlete. (Asking as an outsider) ’Can this kid really fight?’ And I proved that. My second year was to become a prospect and I’m in my third year, now, and this is my year to prove to the world that I’m a contender. I’m trying to be a contender and so I definitely think that this is a good fight for me at this stage of my career.
"But I’m ready to go. When Golden Boy puts me in there, my management decides it’s time for me to really step up, I definitely will be ready."
When Mitchell signed his letter of intent to play football in East Lansing for MSU as a young man out of Brandywine, Maryland, he had aspirations of being one of the guys who are currently waiting to get back to their jobs. Unfortunately, a recurring knee injury forced his retirement from football before the 2005 campaign. However, the transition from field turf to the canvas has left Mitchell with no regrets.
He believes he has found his true calling.
"I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and it was a blessing. It happened for a reason. I saw Tom Zbikowski fight on TV; he’s the one who piqued my interest to enter the ’Sweet Science.’ I think everything happens for a reason and I truly believe- and I’m not just saying this to blow smoke- but I truly believe sooner rather than later, I will be the heavyweight champion of the world."
Remember when Paul Williams and his crew were touting him as the “Most Avoided Fighter in the World”? Well, in a sad irony, it seems like they are turning down every live body that is offered up to them as he returns on July 9th to pick up his HBO-funded annuity. I was told Pawel Wolak is the latest fighter to be given the thumbs down by Williams.
It’s very simple; in coming off a devastating knockout the way Williams is against Sergio Martinez last November, he should be handled carefully but why is it set in stone that HBO has to showcase his return? HBO should be purchasing fights, not fighters (or their advisers).
@FreeMazon910 tweeted: "Again, Joan Guzman is available." ( Hey, don’t give them any ideas...oh, damn!)
It was announced today that upstart cable network Epix will be dipping its toe back into the boxing waters as they will be doing a tape delay broadcast of the May 21st show at the O2 Arena in London, which has the WBO light heavyweight title tilt between Juergen Braehmer and Nathan Cleverly and the grudge match between James DeGale and George Groves, ultimately airing on June 18th.
It’s not the most ideal situation but it’s good to see that they weren’t scared away by the technical issues that plagued their internet broadcast back in March for the Vitali Klitschko-Odlanier Solis fight. I’m told that they are still interested in televising the fight between Felix Sturm and Mathew Macklin, which takes place on June 25th in Germany.
I understand the HBO2 series I brought up awhile back could be starting up by the fall, as it looks like Top Rank has been brought into the fold. It would be a monthly series, with the focus on young, up-and-coming boxers...The name of Miguel Beltran has been mentioned as the opponent of Mikey Garcia, who leads off the June 4th HBO broadcast which features the WBC middleweight bout between Sebastian Zbik and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at the Staples Center...Like I said, everyone loves a winner. Victor Ortiz has been getting awards from the government folk in Kansas and will receive the key to the city from Ventura next week. This Friday, he’ll be in the studio to co-host ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” with Brian Kenny. Pretty soon, he’ll be given Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and invited to the White House...Doesn’t Kelly Pavlik’s quick demise remind you of the of the D.O.C.’s career after his first album? It’s a shame the way he lost his vocal cords...I have the Heat in six over the Bulls...Honestly, what Bernard Hopkins said about Donovan McNabb was just pure stupidity and says a lot about our current culture (or maybe more about Hopkins himself). I wonder what Grant Hill thinks of this madness...RIP to Robert “Tractor” Traylor. I’ll always remember him for being part of the next generation of recruits after the “Fab Five” at Michigan (anyone else remember Maceo Baston?) and for being the guy that the Milwaukee Bucks traded for the rights to Dirk Nowitzki...I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.