When unbeaten heavyweight prospect Seth Mitchell and Chazz Witherspoon enter the ring on April 28 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, their matchup will feature two African American college graduates.
A former scholarship linebacker at Michigan State, Mitchell was named Maryland’s Defensive Player of the Year at Gwynn Park High in Brandywine, Md. by the Associated Press. The 29-year old late-comer to boxing graduated from college with a degree in criminal justice.
Witherspoon, 30, is a former high school basketball and track star who turned down athletic scholarships for an academic one to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, from which he graduated with a degree in pharmaceuticals.
“I’m excited and you all should be excited too,” said Mitchell of what erstwhile publicist, Kelly Swanson, said she believes is a first in boxing. ”I don’t know if it’s the first time, but to have two African American heavyweights who both have college degrees and getting in there about to lock horns is great.”
“I think Chad is a great fighter and his record speaks for itself. He’s got 30 wins, two losses and 22 KOs. I consider him to be fundamentally sound. He’s a good, technical boxer and he comes to fight.”
Mitchell (24-0-1, 18 knockouts), of Brandywine, Md., is coming off an HBO-televised second-round knockout of Timur Ibragimov (30-4, 1, 22 KOs) that earned him his 22nd consecutive victory and his 17th knockout at The Washington Convention Center last December.
Mitchell is after his 10th consecutive stoppage victory against Witherspoon (30-2, 22 KOs), who has scored four straight knockouts since, himself, being stopped by southpaw contender Tony Thompson in the ninth round in December of 2009 at Boardwalk Hall.
WITHERSPOON HAS ANDRE WARD’S TRAINER, VIRGIL HUNTER, FORMER CHAMP KEN NORTON AS MANAGER
A Philadelphia native now living in Paulsboro, N.J. and who is nicknamed “The Gentleman,” Witherspoon’s other loss was by third-round disqualification in June of 2008 against Chris Arreola in a clash of unbeatens.
“The way I look at it is that people have yet to see me at my best. I just plan on going on going out there and putting on my best performance,” said Witherspoon. “Everything is starting to come together. Everything came together with this fight. And it came together out of nowhere.”
Against Mitchell, Witherspoon will be in his first fight under the tutelage of Virgil Hunter, who, with RING champion and WBA/WBC super middlweight titleholder, Andre Ward, were named Trainer of the Year, and, Fighter of the Year, respectively, by the Boxing Writers Association of America for 2011.
“I’ve been training him for about five weeks at our gym, the No Cross, No Crown gym. He’s in great physical condition. The past few weeks have not been enough to change too much, so we’ve got to go with what we’ve got,” said Hunter, who expects Ward to return to the ring against an opponent to be determined in June.
“This is not my first time with a heavyweight. I actually did my apprenticeship with two good heavyweights out of Oakland, Calif., and I’ve got a young successful amateur heavyweight. It really doesn’t make a difference if you understand boxing. I can improve on what I can improve on and try to get a strategy together and then we’ll go through with that strategy.”
The second cousin of former heavyweight champion, Tim Witherspoon, Chazz Witherspoon said he is also under new handlers, Jaw Breaker Management, comprised of Steve Russo and ex-champion, Ken Norton.
“Ken Norton actually suggested that I get a new trainer, and he mentioned Virgil,” said Witherspoon. “The funny thing about Virgil is that I had a list of three trainers that I would want to work with,” said Witherspoon, whose former trainer, Wade Hinnant, will assist Hunter.
“Those three names were Naazim Richardson, Virgil Hunter and Barry Hunter. That wasn’t in any particular order. I talked with Virgil on the phone, and I had met him before because me and Andre Ward were once roommates before the 2004 Olympics. I met Virgil back then. Things have come together and I came out here.”
Witherspoon said the change has made a big difference.
“He’s a brilliant man. I’m an auditory learner, and he’s somebody who knows how to make things make sense,” said Witherspoon. “He’s a heckuva strategist and he just has a really brilliant mind when it comes boxing.”
Witherspoon also said that he picks the brain of Norton, whose split-decision victory in September of 1973 represented only the second loss of Muhammad Ali’s career.
“He shares some things with me as far as what he thinks I need to do in the ring and things like that. I ask him what I need to do to get a body like that that he had back in his day, and he said, well, he did a lot of calisthentics. He’s definitely a resource, and I like getting that tried and true wisdom,” said Witherspoon, who expects Norton to be at ringside on the night of the fight.
“It was definitely a blessing how I got with Virgil, and I got the chance to finally go away to camp. This is the first time that I’ve gone away to camp. I’m getting good sleep and eating correctly and training all of the time. Everything has come together I believe for a reason. I plan on going out there and putting on a good performance.”
MITCHELL’S COMFORTABLE BEING CONSIDERED AMERICA’S BEST HEAVYWEIGHT PROSPECT
Although the heavyweight division is dominated by the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, Mitchell, nicknamed, “Mayhem,” is considered by some to be America’s best chance at ending its heavyweight championship drought.
Even the Klitschkos have mentioned Mitchell prominently.
“In the future, you have a good, young, up and coming heavyweight in Seth Mitchell, that is coming actually from American football,” said Wladimir Klitschko in a recent interview. “He just knocked out an opponent very impressively in Ibragimov.”
Mitchell hears the compliments, but says that he has to remained focus.
“I have to keep winning. If I don’t keep winning, then all of that talk is for nothing. So I have to take it one step at a time. To say that I don’t think about it, I would be lying. I do think about it. But at the same time, I keep everything in perspective,” said Mitchell.
“I have a good team around me, but I know that all of my plans are contingent on me winning and me looking impressive and continuing to improve each and every fight. Thus far in my career, I feel that I have.”
No U.S.-born fighter has held a heavyweight title since 2007, when Shannon Briggs briefly wore the WBO’s strap. In 2006, Hasim Rahman of Baltimore held the WBC belt while the IBF title was held by Chris Byrd.
Puerto Rican-American John Ruiz, the first Latino to win a heavyweight belt, held the WBA title from 2001 to 2005.
“I believe in myself. I’m very confident but I’m not cocky. I’ll let other people say all of the accolades and give all of the praise. I’ll just continue to work hard. But I do believe that I have the tools to become heavyweight champion of the world,” said Mitchell.
“But as far as me saying that I’m the next great American heavyweight, I’ll let everybody else say that. It sounds much better when they say that. You’ll never hear me say that. I’ll just continue to work as hard as I can and try to reach my goals. But I do believe that I have the tools to become the heavyweight champion of the world.”
Mitchell said that he will push for a continuation of his knockout streak against Witherspoon, although not with reckless abandon.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I want to look impressive. My main thing is that I want to get the ‘W,’ but I definitely want to go out there and be entertaining. It’s an entertainment sport, and that’s why I’m back on HBO as the co-main event. At the same time, I’m just going to dictate and stay behind my jab,” said Mitchell.
“I believe that if I put my punches together, and dictate from behind my jab and stay with my game gameplan, that I could get him outta there. But I’m definitely going to be prepared to go a hard 12 rounds. I do want to be impressive and I don’t want my knockout streak to stop. But at the same time, I’ll go o ut there and be smart. Win lose or draw, I’m coming to fight. I expect to win.”
WITHERSPOON SAYS “I COME TO RUMBLE,” MITCHELL’S PRIOR OPPONENTS FOUGHT “SCARED”
“I come to rumble. I don’t fear any man. When I fight Seth, I’m going to fight him and I’m not going to fight him like I’m scared of him. I’m not going to say that all of his other opponents were scared of him, but when you watch when they’re fighting him, they’re throwing punches like they’re trying to keep him off of them,” said Witherspoon.
“They’re not committing to their punches. They’re fighting scared, so to speak. I’m not a guy who is going to come in like that. My heart doesn’t pump any Kool-Aid and I know Seth’s heart doesn’t pump Kool-Aid. So you’re going to have two men in there that’s trying to win the fight. I believe that I’m going to have a good showing for myself.”
Witherspoon has suffered his two losses in his past nine bouts, with all of his victories being by knockout during that time.
“I turned pro with only under three years of experience, but I’m getting a little bit more seasoned and mature,” said Witherspoon. “I am able to commit to my shots a little better. I believe that I’m starting to come into my own, now. I believe that’s allowed me to land my punches better.”
Witherspoon later softened his stance on Mitchell’s opponents.
“I wasn’t trying to knock any of his opponents or say that they were scared of him. I wasn’t to try to say that as a challenge to Seth,” said Witherspoon. “I was just stating the facts, which is that I’m not a scary guy like that and that I come to fight.”
“I don’t think that a lot of people come into the ring and intentionally fight scared. I reeally think that once they get into the ring with me, the see me and my stature and I punch hard and things of that nature, but they underestimate my boxing IQ and my heart and my intestiinal fortitude when I get into the ring. They underestimate my quickness,” said Mitchell.
“I think that at lot of them, once they get into the ring, that surprises them. I believe that once I start touching them, then they want to get out of there. I respect Chad, and I’ve watched him and I’ve studied him and they come to fight. He says his heart doesn’t pump Kool-Aid, and my doesn’t either. If you slice me open, there’s no female dog in me. Just be prepared.”
WHAT WOULD MITCHELL, WITHERSPOON BE DOING IF NOT FOR BOXING?
Witherspoon said he would have been a pharmaceutical representative if not for boxing.
“I would have been the guy in the doctor’s office with the briefcase, trying to get the doctor to write perscriptions for whatever medicines that I would represent,” said Witherspoon. “So I would have definitely utilized my degree. I have no problem talking. I would have been a salesman, basically.”
Mitchell says he would have been a community advocate for youth.
“Coming up, I had a lot of mentors and things of that nature who kept me out of trouble and kept me on the right track to get my degree in criminal justice, so I would have probably tried to navigate toward some type of mentoring and helping young kids and youth somewhere,” said Mitchell.
“Because I didn’t have a father growing up, because my father and my mother separated when I was five years old, but through sports and things of that nature, I had a lot of mentors who really kept me on the right path. So in order to give back that way, I probably would have tried to navigate in that direction.”
When the fight is over, Witherspoon said he believed that he and Mitchell could be friends.
“I said to somebody else that from everything that I’ve learned about Seth and the things that I’m seeing, it seems like he would be somebody that I would actually probably be cool with outside of boxing,” said Witherspoon. “He sounds like a standup guy and a hard-working man, and he’s about his family, and I’m about my family as well.”
Photo by Tom Hogan, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Photo by Emily Harney, Fightwireimages.com
Photos by Delane Rouse, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Photo by Jeff Julian, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org