Last November at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, undefeated heavyweight Seth “Mayhem” Mitchell, a 6-foot-2, 242-pound former college linebacker, went into his fight with Johnathon Banks as the clear favorite.
Mitchell, of Brandywine, Md., was being touted as America’s greatest hope to dethrone the dominant Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali. Banks, meanwhile, was 24 pounds lighter and potentially drained by the loss of his mentor, Hall of Fame legend Emanuel “Manny” Steward, just a few weeks earlier.
Then came the upset.
Banks floored Mitchell three times on his way to a second-round knockout.
On June 22, Mitchell (25-1-1, 19 knockouts) will get a shot at redemption when he meets Banks (29-1-1, 19 KOs) in the first-ever heavyweight fight to be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Banks-Mitchell II will be the Showtime-televised co-feature to a main event between rising WBC lightweight titleholder Adrien “The Problem” Broner and WBA welterweight titleholder Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi.
“It’s a great main event, but you couldn’t get a better co-feature fight to compliment that type of a main event when you’ve got two, tremendous heavyweights in there,” said Tom Loeffler, Banks’ promoter with K2.
“Before the first fight, Seth was clearly considered the best American heavyweight. Leading up to it, there was a lot of talk about him fighting the Klitschkos down the road.”
Not only had Banks attended Steward’s funeral the Wednesday prior to the bout with Mitchell, but he had also been charged by Steward with training Wladimir Klitschko for his unanimous-decision victory over Mariusz Wach a week prior to fighting Mitchell.
“There was everything that Johnathon went through, at that point, training a heavyweight, the death of Emanuel Steward,” said Loeffler.
“So just being able to be victorious in that fight, I think that he proved there’s a lot more to Johnathon Banks than people had known previously. We’re looking forward to this fight just to prove that the first fght wasn’t a fluke.”
During a Tuesday conference call promoting their return bout, Banks and Mitchell each said they are feeling the pressure of winning the rematch.
“Me, personally, I think that the pressure is on me,” said Mitchell.
“It’s one thing to lose, but then it’s another thing to lose back-to-back to the same fighter. So I believe that the pressure is on me. But I’ve said this from day one, that I want to be in situations where the stakes are high. That means that you’re headed in the right direction. So I think that the pressure is on me. I accept it. I relish the challenge, and, on June 22, we’re going to get it on.”
“I think the exact opposite,” said Banks, a former cruiserweight whose victory over Mitchell improved his mark to 9-0-1 with five knockouts as a heavyweight. “I think that the pressure is on me. I do. I think that the pressure is on me because they’re saying that he came on TV and did this, and let’s see if he can do it again.”
“I think that the pressure is on me. Just like Seth said, I accept the challenge too. I’ve never run from pressure. I accept it and I embrace it. So I think that the pressure is on me. I had no doubt that Seth would accept the challenge like I accepted the challenge.”
Their originally scheduled rematch had to be postponed from Feb. 16 when Banks suffered a thumb injury during the first week of the month.
“I was going to fight with a broken thumb because I wanted the fight. I don’t like to prepare for a fight and then call your fight off. I was going to go through with the fight, but Wladimir Klitschko called me and asked me not to go through with the fight. He said, ‘Dude, you broke a thumb. Why would you take a risk going into a fight handicapped?’ But I wasn’t thinking like that. I was thinking with my heart. I just wanted to fight, and that’s just me. So I sat down and I thought about it, and it was bandaged up and I couldn’t use it,” said Banks.
“I listened to what he said and that’s when I went ahead and called off the fight. I didn’t want to do it. No fighter likes to hear about the fight being canceled. I just wanted to fight. I’m a fighter. … That’s why you surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable about the game so that they can bring you back to reality. I definitely made the right decision. I don’t want no excuses. I want to be at 100 percent. If I lose at 100 percent, I can live with that.”
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com