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Seth Mitchell…A Reality Check

(Photo © Tri Nguyen)
(Photo © Tri Nguyen)

By Alec Kohut


Whatever you read and whatever you watch these days about heavyweight Seth Mitchell, the idea of a title fight with a man named Klitschko will be mentioned. So before Mitchell enters the ring to face former cruiserweight Johnathon Banks, maybe it’s time for a reality check.
 
Mitchell is one of the most exciting and well-equipped American heavyweight prospects we have seen in some time. I also personally believe he has the tools, the work ethic and, most importantly, the upside to become a true contender and possibly a world champion. But right now, any talk of a Mitchell fight with either Klitschko - or any top five heavyweight in the world - is reckless and premature.

Let’s look honestly at where Mitchell is in his career. At 25-0-1 with 19 knockouts, he has yet to face an opponent that is anything more than…well, an “opponent.” That’s not to say Mitchell was not impressive against Timor Ibragimov last December or showed stiff resolve in his third round knockout of Chazz Witherspoon in April. Mitchell was staggered by Witherspoon and despite his impressive come back to beat Witherspoon, anybody who can honestly call Mitchell a contender and discusses a timeframe to face a Klitschko is just plain delusional.
 
In the very capable hands of trainer Andre Hunter, Mitchell is now in the most important, developmental period of his career. The period where he moves from fighting “opponents” to fighting actual legitimate contenders. Johnathon Banks is right on that line; he shouldn’t be considered an “opponent” and while not a true contender, he will be if he can score a win over Mitchell.
 
So it is at this point of his career that a troubling question must be asked: Is Seth Mitchell being developed into a great fighter or managed into getting a title shot and a big payday? In the business of boxing today, it is far too easy to manage a fighter to a title shot payday without developing him as a great fighter. Doing that would be a major disservice to Seth Mitchell.
 
I can’t say that I have a problem with his current development as much as its pace. Mitchell has neither the amateur background nor the professional experience to be a two-or-three-times-a-year fighter at this point and expect to develop greatness. Mitchell needs experience. Since the beginning of 2010, he fought a total of 23 rounds in 10 fights. Twenty-three rounds in 34 months. That’s hardly getting the necessary experience for a guy who didn’t start boxing until age 24.
 
As long as Mitchell and his team remain hostage, waiting for an HBO date for every fight thus unable to pursue a more active schedule, it will be extremely difficult to gain the experience necessary to beat the sport’s best. It is pure folly to talk of a fighter’s development today in terms of time. A year in boxing today is hardly what a year in boxing was 30 years ago. So any talk of Mitchell being ready for a title shot by the end of 2013 is just that: talk.
 
Before I go on, let me reiterate my sincere belief that Seth Mitchell can indeed become a great heavyweight. Given his progress thus far, at his level of experience, his upside is mind-boggling. The missing ingredient is experience. And experience does not come from the gym; it does not come from sparring. It comes from real live actual fights.
 
The best historical analogy I can draw is a young Mike Tyson; as he blew through opponents like a wrecking ball, he would then face a slick wily veteran named James “Quick” Tillis. Tyson didn’t look good against Tillis. He did score a knockdown during the fight but was forced to go all 10 rounds and was taken out of his comfort zone. He won the decision back (when New York still scored fights one point per round) by scores of 6-4 (twice) and 8-2. It’s fights such as this that teach you not what you should work on but what you must work on. Seth Mitchell needs to learn what he must work on; that doesn’t happen in the gym.
 
Given the Al Haymon/HBO schedule Mitchell is currently on, he’ll be lucky to fight twice before heading into the final months of 2013. After having to recover from being hurt to beat Witherspoon, can anyone really argue he is just two fights away from being ready for a title shot? If he is able to defeat Banks, it’s fair to argue that he is two or three fights away from facing a legitimate top 10 heavyweight. Only then can we utter the names “Klitschko” and “Seth Mitchell” in the same breath.
 
But will Golden Boy, Al Haymon and HBO wait that long? Probably not. The fear is that Mitchell is managed in a similar fashion to Chris Arreola, who became nowhere close to a real top 10 heavyweight before being thrown into the ring with a far superior Vitali Klitschko.
 
There is also a fear in the Mitchell camp that a loss at this point would drastically set their fighter back in his title quest. Given that Jean Marc Mormeck and Tony Thompson both were awarded fights against Wladimir in 2012, it’s hard to argue that a loss would truly hurt Mitchell’s chances at a title fight.
 
And let’s be completely honest here; for any fighter to be considered a legitimate threat to either Klitschko, he will have had to reach the point where he can easily beat every other heavyweight in the world. So if there is any fear that a fighter will lose to any heavyweight not named Klitschko, then they are not ready to compete against either Klitschko.
 
So tonight, we’ll see the next step in the progress of Seth Mitchell and he will likely blow through the smaller Johnathon Banks and the championship talk will get even louder. But let’s all take a step back to realize that Mitchell is still learning and in order to realize the enormous upside and potential this young man has, he can’t skip any steps up the ladder and be rushed into a title fight.
 
However, given the business of boxing in today’s world, we can only hope that it will be development, not marketing, that guides Mitchell’s career.
 
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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