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Seth Mitchell, Al Haymon and Boxing Purgatory

(Photo © SHOWTIME)
(Photo © SHOWTIME)

By Alec Kohut


On the day following the 2012 election, just before his first fight with Johnathon Banks, Seth Mitchell held a media workout where he trains in Clinton, Maryland. Somewhere between the typical media questions about sparring and if he’d like to face a Klitschko following this fight, Mitchell was asked how damaging a loss would be at this point in his career. Mitchell responded, “A loss now would set me back about two years.”
 
Mitchell was right. Banks’ two-round dismantling of Mitchell proved to all watching that he was indeed at least two years away from competing with top 15 heavyweights. Everyone, that is, but those with a financial interest in “Mayhem.”
 
Team Mitchell and “advisor” Al Haymon quickly decided to exercise the rematch clause (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m., PT) with Banks, ensuring at least one more decent payday before their likely journey to boxing Purgatory.
 
Purgatory is not hell. It is an uncomfortable place where one must atone for his or her sins. A place for those not bad enough to go to Hell but not quite good enough to go to Heaven…yet. Purgatory for Seth Mitchell will likely be to rebuild his career against rugged journeymen on ESPN2 and “Solo Boxeo” on UniMas. Opponents much like prospect Bryant Jennings is facing these days.

Before his loss to Banks, Mitchell had fought just 23 rounds in 34 months. Now he’s fought just 25 rounds in the last 40 months. Jennings has logged 41 rounds in the past 18 months, and 64 rounds during the time span which Mitchell fought just 25. For a fighter who didn’t enter a boxing gym until age 24 and had only 10 amateur contests, his most important developmental period of his career was wasted.
 
From the moment the contract was signed, it was HBO (the Haymon Boxing Organization) that was in charge of Mitchell’s development. From then on, Mitchell’s development as a fighter took a back seat to available HBO and Showtime dates and “acceptable” opponents. Seth Mitchell was an “HBO fighter” now and there was no room for developmental fights against the likes of Dominick Guinn or Siarhei Liakhovich. They weren’t marketable.
 
Mitchell was pushed along and marketed as the next great heavyweight without his flaws being exposed until their unmasking was devastating. Mitchell’s manager, Sharif Salim, called the loss “an aberration.” However, it’s anything but when a talented but raw and inexperienced fighter is exposed by an experienced veteran.
 
Salim is quick to point out that efforts were made to pit Mitchell against durable foes who would provide the prospect with meaningful rounds such as Timor Ibragimov, who had not been stopped in his 34 professional fights. But when Mitchell did not get the rounds he had hoped for, the need for experience and tough rounds took a back seat to marketing and promotion in the form of Chazz Witherspoon.
 
Witherspoon had been unimpressive in beating some pretty bad opposition after his losses to Chris Arreola and Tony Thompson yet he managed to wobble Mitchell in their April 2012 contest. It should have been a wake-up call for Team Mitchell but after coming back to stop Witherspoon in three rounds, there would be no talk of taking a step back - or even sideways - to prepare Mitchell for his next step up in competition.
 
It was only a matter of time before the combination of inexperience and inactivity would catch up with the hyped heavyweight prospect. The biggest shock was not that it happened against Johnathon Banks but how it happened. Banks easily exploited just one of Mitchell’s flaws in his dramatic win. The real question now is how many more flaws can Banks exploit in their rematch?
 
The chances seem very slim that Seth Mitchell will avenge his lone defeat and put forth a performance warranting a top 10 ranking. And it’s undoubtedly better for his future if he does suffer another defeat. If Mitchell finds a way to defeat Banks, Haymon will surely “cash him out” and try to throw him in with a Klitschko for a fight in which he is nowhere near ready.
 
But there are reasons to remain positive about Mitchell’s future as a heavyweight. By merely adopting a more defensive mindset in the early rounds, he will acquire some needed experience against a very, very good opponent. Plus, the two fights against Banks will provide a great guide for areas that need the most improvement.
 
Make no mistake about it; Seth Mitchell has power and skills. And power can compensate for a lot of little mistakes. So Mitchell’s challenge is not to eliminate his flaws but turn his major flaws into minor ones. Although that is much easier said than done, Mitchell has the work ethic and the attitude to work on them. His trainer doesn’t have to worry about getting him shape, keeping him out of trouble or Mitchell trying to run his own camp.
 
Mitchell combines superb athletic ability with great size. With more - and better - ring experience, there is no reason to doubt Mitchell can one day earn a world championship belt in a post-Klitschko heavyweight division.
 
It’s hard to blame Team Mitchell for taking fights with six-figure purses over developmental fights for $15,000 on ESPN2 against opponents unapproved by boxing’s powers that be. But after tonight, the six-figure option should be off the table, so the team can focus again on Mitchell’s development as a fighter, not an attraction.
 
But there still remains one major hurdle to Mitchell’s future development: Haymon. If Al Haymon remains a part of Team Mitchell, there remains the danger of merely manufacturing a six or seven-win streak (recently done with Chris Arreola against the likes of Joey Abell) in hopes of securing one good payday.
 
Only time will tell.
 
Questions or comments can be directed to aleckohut@hotmail.com. You can also follow Alec on Twitter at www.twitter.com/alecmaxboxing and visit him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alec.kohut.
 
 

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