“That really meant something. It was wild when Rahman won the title. Boxing got huge, especially in Baltimore,” said Kisner. “Because me and Rahman’s neighborhoods are right near each other, it meant a lot. When he knocked out Lennox Lewis, the whole entire South Baltimore area went crazy.”
Kisner, 21, has similar hopes for unbeaten heavyweight prospect, Seth “Mayhem” Mitchell, of Brandywine, Md., whose open workout he attended on Wednesday along with many others at the Dream Team Boxing Gym in Clinton.
Largely considered to be America’s next bet to win a major world title, Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 knockouts) will be after his 24th straight win and his 11th consecutive knockout on Nov. 17 against Johnathon Banks (28-1-1, 18 KOs) in an HBO-televised clash of 30-year-olds at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
“So now, you have Seth Mitchell, who is very athletic, very agile. A very good person and a very good role model. A very good gentleman for the sport of boxing,” said Kisner, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound cruiserweight.
“So I think that it’s great, overall, for the entire state of Maryland to have Seth around now. It’s great to turn on the television and see Seth Mitchell on HBO. He’s made it to the big time and he’s there now. To turn on the television and to see a fellow Marylander is good for the state.”
Kisner was on hand along with fighters such as retired Hall of Famer Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and ex-beltholder DeMarcus Corley, and young boxers such as 6-5 junior middleweight Alantez Fox, lightweight Terron Grant and female middleweight Tori Nelson.
“It gives everyone hope, especially us younger guys who train hard,” said Kisner. “I’m undefeated, so you look at Seth, and you say, ‘hopefully, I can be that next one’.”
Mitchell welcomes the attention.
“I’m just fortunate, and I don’t take it for granted. I’m very blessed to have people, especially in boxing, as a fan base,” said Mitchell.
“You can be good, but if you don’t have a fan base, you’re not going to reach the top as fast as you would like to. For my style, and for me to resonate with the people, it means a lot that they’re here, and I just want to keep that going.”
MITCHELL ‘A PROBLEM FOR ANY HEAVYWEIGHT IN THE DIVISION’
Managed by Sharif Salim and trained by Andre Hunter, Mitchell is considered by many to be America’s best hope at ending the country’s drought of champions in a division dominated by the Ukrainian Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir.
No U.S.-born fighter has held a heavyweight title since 2007, when Shannon Briggs briefly wore the WBO’s strap. In 2006, Rahman held the WBC belt while the IBF title was held by Chris Byrd. American John Ruiz, the first Latino to win a heavyweight belt, held the WBA title during stretches over the course of 2001 to 2005.
“He’s becoming a household name in the heavyweight division, and what better time than when there hasn’t been an American heavyweight champion in six or seven years. I think that he has all of the ingredients to become a heavyweight champion,” ,” said Johnson.
“But I always say this: Behind every champion and every fighter is a few good men. Without those men, there wouldn’t be a Mark Johnson, there wouldn’t be a Sugar Ray Leonard, there wouldn’t be a Tommy Hearns and there wouldn’t be a Seth Mitchell.”
Mitchell is coming off knockouts in the second and third rounds over Timur Ibragimov and Chazz Witherspoon in December of last year and April, respectively. In Banks, Mitchell faces a longtime sparring partner to the Klitschko siblings.
“I don’t think that I can’t be beat. I realize that it only takes one shot, but I do believe in myself,” said Mitchell. “I’m very confident that I have the skills to be a problem for any heavyweight in the division right now.”
‘I WAS A QUICK LEARNER’
Promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and a former scholarship linebacker at Michigan State, Mitchell was named Maryland’s Defensive Player of the Year at Gwynn Park High in Brandywine by the Associated Press, and began boxing shortly after graduating from college with a degree in criminal justice.
Mitchell’s transition into boxing wasn’t easy, as illustrated by an early sparring session with a then-15-year-old Kisner.
“That was a long time ago, and Nick was slick, man. I was trying to hit him with jabs and stuff, and he had this little grimace on his face and was rolling his shoulders and everything,” said Mitchell, chuckling as he recalled the three-round exhibition.
“Like I’ve said, you’re going to get hit, and he caught me with a couple of shots. It is what it is. Nick was definitely slick when I got in there. I knew that I was just starting, and I knew that I had power. I knew that it would turnaround, and that I was a quick learner.”
Kisner’s father, Danny Kisner, agrees.
“That was six or seven years ago,” said Danny Kisner, a trainer and promoter. “To see that Seth now, on the verge of fighting one of the Klitschkos, that just speaks to his work ethic and the team that he has around him.”
Salim recalls how it all got started for Mitchell.
“It’s a collective work effort to bring any fighter along these days. At one time, you only basically needed a fighter and a good trainer. But nowadays, it’s very important, if you want to go on that world class level, to have a very good promoter. We were happy, just after 10 amateur fights and two professional fights. I wrote a proposal to Golden Boy and they said, ‘hey, we kind of like what we see. Could you send a DVD?’” said Salim.
“So I sent a DVD out, and they said, ‘hey, I think we can do something with this guy.’ We were surprised, because I had a package ready for a couple of other promoters. But Golden Boy met our terms and the important thing was that we kept our solidarity. We kept Andre Hunter as the trainer, and me as the manager, and those are the types of things that I think are very important in developing a young fighter.”
Mitchell has also drawn the advisement of boxing power-broker Al Haymon, whose clients have included Floyd Mayweather Jr., Adrien Broner, Andre Berto, Paul Williams, Chris Arreola, Gary Russell Jr., Peter Quillin, Danny Garcia, Antonio Tarver, Devon Alexander and Austin Trout, among others.
“If you have that pursuit of will to become the heavyweight champion of the world, you have to have some financial backing and someone who knows the culture and the economics of boxing a little beyond the local level,” said Salim.
“So in the last several fights, we’ve also come under the advisement of one Al Haymon, and that has helped us tremendously as well. I think it’s been three fights now that we’ve been with Mr. Haymon, and that’s helped out with our exposure. So I would say that it’s been a wonderful team effort.”
‘A GOOD, ALL-AROUND DUDE’
A married father of two young children, Mitchell’s local influence has created a fan base beyond his boxing peers, according to close friend Ron Dow, a 33-year-old employee of the Internal Revenue Service.
“I’ve known Seth close to four years. We met through our daughters. Both of them are 6 years old. Our daughters were about 3, about to turn 4,” said Dow, a 6-9 ex-football and basketball player.
“They were in a dance class out in Southern Maryland. We were sitting there, trying to put our daughters’ shoes on, and both of us were having difficulty putting them on the wrong foot. So it was one of those bonding things.”
A former boxing fan who lost interest in the sport, Dow said that he was drawn back into boxing through Mitchell.
”Seth asked me if I boxed, but I had kind of lost the whole zeal for boxing back in the Mike Tyson days, when people started to [ridicule] the sport,” said Dow,
“Seth told me what he did for a living, asked me to come out and support him a little bit, and I took it for what I thought it was worth.”
Dow was ringside for both the victories over Ibragimov and Witherspoon at The Washington Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall, respectively.
“That got me hooked back into boxing, and not only as a friend, but as a fan. Like I said, I had lost the zeal for boxing, which had become a joke for me,” said Dow. “It was kind of a show like dog and pony versus the actual gladiator sport. Seth brings that gladiator aspect back to fruition.”
Dow credits Mitchell not only for helping him to improve his physical conditioning and spirituality, but also for generally giving him “solid advice.”
“I’m 6-9, and it’s only because of Seth that I’m down to 260. When I first met him, I was at about 305 when we met. But I’m an athlete. When an athlete says, ‘my boy is getting fat,’ I went extremely hard. I challenge him, and he challenges me. I started watching my food intake. And he actually got me back into church too, so he’s a good, all-around dude,” said Dow.
“Seth is just a real person, a good father, a good friend and a good representation for people in general. He’s loyal, dedicated to whatever he does, and that’s what’s missing in society as a whole. Boxing needs somebody to represent the United States well and boxing well as a whole, and Seth is the entire package. Beyond being a fan, I’m a friend. He gives me solid advice. He doesn’t just talk about it, he lives it.”
‘I’M A THUG IN THE RING’
“One thing about me is that this is me. I’m not putting on a facade for anybody. I’m a very humble guy by nature,” said Mitchell, whose fight with Banks will happen on the undercard of a bout featuring undefeated former WBO junior lightweight beltholder Adrien Broner opposite WBC lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco.
“I work extremely hard, and I’m finding that a lot of people who come in contact with me, they find that the characteristics that I show are really genuine. So, it’s not hard for me when they say, ‘are you becoming a role model?’ To me, it’s not hard, because that’s who I am. I don’t fake for the cameras. The things that you see are real.”
In the ring, however, Mitchell said, “I’m a different person.”
“Outside of the ring, I call myself a gentle giant. Outside of the ring, I’m one of the nicest guys. I’m down to earth. But when it comes time to compete, I’m like a light switch, I can turn off and on,” said Mitchell.
“That’s just how I carry myself, and that’s how I’ve been since I was a youngster. I tell people all of the time that I’m not a Twitter thug, I’m not a Facebook thug, I’m not a media network thug, I’m a thug in the ring. When I get in the ring, I handle my business.”
But Mitchell realizes that his success can be short-lived.
“The bottom line is that boxing is a business, and if I don’t continue to do the job in the ring, all of this stops. I understand that, and that’s why I don’t get too high on myself,” said Mitchell.
“I realize that people see passion in me, and that they see the excitement that I’m fighting with, and that I’m really fighting for something. But the bottom line is that if I’m out there losing and not performing, you guys wouldn’t be here today.”
Photos by Delane Rouse, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org