Mitchell wore his Michigan State Spartans’ traditional green and white colors to a roundtable interview with reporters on Thursday, where he also offered his opinion on that evening’s upcoming NFL draft.
“This is my school. I have to wear their green and white. You can see that I have my manager [Sharif Salim] wearing green and white. So, pretty soon, all of you will be wearing green and white,” said Mitchell, who averaged 10.6 tackles and ranked second for the Spartans in 2003 before a left knee injury prematurely ended his junior year and became a chronic source of pain afterward.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason. So I’m just happy where I’m at right now. When people ask me about football, I tell them that I miss the camaraderie. Boxing is a lonely sport, but I’m happy where I’m at in life right now.”
Nicknamed, “Mayhem,” Mitchell is coming off an HBO-televised second-round knockout of Timur Ibragimov that earned him his 22nd consecutive victory and his 17th knockout last December, and will be after his 10th consecutive stoppage against Witherspoon.
The division is dominated by the Klitschko brothers, Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko, but Mitchell is considered by some to be America’s best chance at ending its heavyweight championship drought.
Mitchell has even been mentioned by Wladimir Klitschko as a potential threat.
“If you take the Klitchkos out of the picture, right now,” said Mitchell, “I think I’m right up there with any of the top heavyweights that are out there at this time. I think that my team, Golden Boy, my management, [advisor] Al Haymon, they’re doing a great job in moving me along,” said Mitchell, who is left-handed but fights out of an orthodox stance.
“A lot of people might say that he’s not fighting this caliber of opponent, but you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you get rushed into a title shot, then your team is stupid. Otherwise, your team is moving you too slow. It goes in one ear and out the other. I think my team is doing a good job.”
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 don’t just want to be the NABO champion; I believe I can be the heavyweight world champion. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will have the opportunity to fight for one of those titles,” said Mitchell. “So this is a big fight for me, and I’m just focused. If you all can’t tell, I’m really excited about this fight and I’m just ready to go out there on Saturday and perform.”
Mitchell considers Witherspoon to be his most difficult challenge to date.
“I would say that styles make fights. I believe that this fight poses a tougher challenge for me because Chazz fights more, whereas Ibragimov was more of a technical fighter. I felt that my pressure would get to him in the later rounds even though I got him out of there in the second round. Chazz is a solid, all-around fighter who has heart and he comes to fight,” said Mitchell.
“In the fights that Chazz has lost, he’s doing well, and then once he gets hit, he stands his ground. That might be his downfall in this fight. I think Chazz is a fundamentally sound fighter. He stays busy. He lets his hands go and he throws punches in bunches. I think that he will come out and try to do some different things, but my trainer and I have worked on two or three different gameplans, so we’re ready for anything he brings to the table.”
WITHERSPOON’S OUT FOR DIVISIONAL RESPECT
As a 201-pound amateur competing in the 2004 Golden Gloves, Witherspoon found himself under a microscope. At the time, he was a 24-year-old 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.
“They didn’t know who I was, where I came from, and they saw me with my mother and father because they were always with me. So I guess that they always thought that I was somebody that was shielded and somebody who wasn’t going to rumble,” said Witherspoon.
“Plus I was weighing 201, so when I cut that weight, I was walking around looking all sunken in and skeletal. I think that they didn’t think I was as strong as I was. But the one thing that I told myself is that no one is going to be stronger than me at 201.”
Witherspoon won the Golden Gloves title, and with that, the respect of his peers.
“People started to accept me. In the amateurs, everybody has their little cliques and the people who are in the top 10 kind of hang out and they kind of know each other. Everyone was just sort of looking at me,” said Witherspoon.
“But once I made the trials, it was like I became a celebrity all of a sudden. When I got to the 2004 Golden Gloves, I still didn’t know anybody, but everybody knew me. In the beginning, people challenged me, but once you crack people a couple of times, that changes things a little bit.”
Saying “I’m ready to go to the next level,” Witherspoon looks to take a giant leap in professional respectability on Saturday night against Mitchell.
“I do love my mommy, so I am a Momma’s boy. Don’t get it twisted. But if you try to bring the rumble to me, I’m going to bring the rumble right back to you,” said Witherspoon, a Philadelphia native now living in Paulsboro, N.J. who is nicknamed “The Gentleman.”
“I’m a man’s man. I’m a man who was raised by a father who was raised by his father. I’m part of a generation of men being raised by men who were raised by men. So I’m a throwback. I’ll lay my life on the line. I’m not scared of death. So when I get into the ring, there’s nothing to talk about. So that’s the mindset that I have.”
Witherspoon has scored four straight knockouts since being stopped himself by southpaw contender Tony Thompson in the ninth round in December of 2009 at Boardwalk Hall. Witherspoon’s other loss was by third-round disqualification in June of 2008 against Chris Arreola.
“My two losses are because of pride. So I’ve learned that. I have to get a grip on my ego, because I’m not an egotistical guy. But am I a man? When it comes to my manhood, you’re waking a sleeping lion at that point,” said Witherspoon.
“Because I’m like, ‘okay, let’s have at it.’ I’m trying to get that in check because that’s not fighting smart. I know Seth doesn’t think that I can punch, and I’m not saying that I’m Mike Tyson, but I do think that I punch better than he knows. I believe that he’ll see that when we’re in the fight.”
“Without a doubt Chazz has an upside. When I watch both his fights and setbacks, I attribute to the right timing and preparation. His pride was fighting and he wasn’t. He probably shouldn’t have taken the Thompson fight because there really wasn’t enough time to prepare for that fight. But when you look at his amateur and pro fight experience, he is only 30 years old and just coming into his heavyweight experience,” said Hunter.
“I am not just happy to be here, but also to make a statement. We are in it to climb the division. I am not out here blindly dreaming either. One moment can create a perception of a fighter. Saturday we plan to turn that around and show people they might have created the wrong perception about Chazz Witherspoon. If he comes out victorious, then Chazz could and should be called the next great American heavyweight, as that is what they are calling Seth Mitchell.”
Photo by Keith Claytor, Time Frozen Photography
Photo by Tom Hogan, Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions
Photos by Delane Rouse, Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions
Photo by Jeff Foley, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com