Seth Mitchell will tell you he isn't the savior of heavyweight American boxing. It's not how he thinks of himself. He doesn't use words like that to describe himself. If the media or boxing fans wish to describe him as much, that's their choice.
Notably, though, Mitchell won't say they're wrong.
At least, he won't say they're wrong in terms of what he is capable of doing within the ropes of a ring. Savior or not, he does believe he'll earn a shot at the best heavyweight boxing has to offer. He is also comfortably self-assured that when such an opportunity presents itself, he'll be in a position to take advantage.
He also acknowledges he has some work to do.
Tomorrow he'll take another step towards that (inevitable?) end when he takes on his toughest fight to date with Johnathon Banks in the HBO co-main event of the Adrien Broner vs. Antonio DeMarco card in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Banks presents a set of challenges Mitchell has arguably not faced before. If the former Michigan State Spartan is to become what others say he may already be, solving the puzzle Banks presents is positively critical.
In this interview with Bad Left Hook, Mitchell opens up about the advantages Banks possesses over him, what nearly cost him the fight against Chazz Witherspoon, the perils of watching tape in boxing, why his star is rising and his outlook for the future.
Full audio and partial transcription below:
Luke Thomas: Do you ever get tired from talking about the Klitschko's in your interviews?
Seth Mitchell: (laughs) I mean, a little bit. Sometimes a lot of the interviews are redundant, but it's a part of the business, nature of the beast. That's what I'm ultimately trying to accomplish and that's to face whomever has the belts. It looks like the Klitschkos will still have the belts.
I think my team and I, we're going a good job. Hopefully I can get an opportunity at the end of 2013.
Luke Thomas: Do you ever think about yourself in the terms the media talks about you in? As the guy who could resurrect or save or restore heavyweight American boxing?
Seth Mitchell: I really don't. If you follow me, if you know me, I'm a very humble guy. I believe in myself and I believe in my ability. And I know when I step into the ring I bring a lot of excitement. My style resonates to the fans, but I just try to go out there and do my bes to compete and I let the media and everybody else give me all of those accolades. I just continue to work hard.
Luke Thomas: You suffered a hand injury. Give us an update: how is the hand and more specifically, what were the steps you took during the time off in terms of physical rehabilitation to heal it?
Seth Mitchell: The hand's fine, to answer your question. The hand is fine. I tore my MCL in my middle finger - my third metacarpal [sic]. My middle finger knuckle, I tore the MCL. The doctor said it didn't require surgery, it just required six to eight weeks of rest. Because the fight kept getting postponed, I actually had the opportunity to rest it for about eleven weeks instead of six to eight weeks. I got a lot of rest on it.
I stayed in the gym throughout the whole time just working on my left hand. Over the last three months I've been sparring and hitting the heavy bag and have no ill effects with my right hand. That's 100 percent, thank god for that.
I just rested it and put my hand in rice and squeeze that, do little weight things, get a massage, things of that nature. Just allow it to heal, but I did stay off of it for about three months.
Luke Thomas: Boxing can cause wear and tear, but was there anything specifically that caused it?
Seth Mitchell: I believe it was one of those things that kind of happens. That was my first time having an injury in my boxing career that allowed me to have to pull out of a fight. Everybody has knicks and bruises. I have a saying: as an athlete you're never 100 percent; if you're 85 percent you're a 100 percent. This was the first time I had to pull out and I think it was the right hand I hit Chazz [Witherspoon] with in the third round right before the ref stopped it. That's when I believe I hurt my knuckle.
Luke Thomas: Absent sparring or heavy bags, was adding new skills or tools a part of the plan for maximizing the time off?
Seth Mitchell: Absolutely, absolutely. My trainer and I, whenever a fight is over we go back to the fundamentals. We go back to the basics. We go back throwing the jab and not leaving your head in the same spot for more than two or three seconds. We're religious in that aspect of not thinking that I know everything, going back and trying to sharpen all of my fundamentals; working on things such as feints, creating more space, not falling on your punches.
Those are a lot of things my trainer and I worked on throughout this time off. Hopefully you can see that on the 17th because I've definitely been working extremely hard and I'm excited to get in the ring and show what I've been working on.
Luke Thomas: Let's circle back to the Chazz Witherspoon fight. It went your way, but there was a moment where it got a little hairy. From your vantage point, why did he have some success?
Seth Mitchell: He did a good job with his jab. Not that he was picking me apart with his jab, but he was throwing his jab out there, keeping the right space. He was feinting off of his jab, short little steps that he would do with his foot that would throw my timing off and - thinking that a shot was coming - it made me bend at my waist instead of bending at my knees. My hands were actually up, but when I was bent at my waist and I was a sitting duck, he was able to come over with the chopping right hand. He caught me with that about three or four times in that first round that got my legs a little wobbly, spaghetti legs.
I was able to overcome it, but those are some of the things we worked on. Sometimes you're going to get caught out of position, but when I got caught out of position I should've used my legs to get out of range from his right hand. Those are just some of the things that we've done with studying tape and just trying to correct some of the things I did wrong in that fight. But that's why he was able to have success.
Luke Thomas: Among other talents, two things saved you. Power was one. Recovery instincts was the other. I'm sure you knew you had those instincts, but you'd never been put in a position in a fight where you had to use them, at least not to that extent. What did you learn about your ability to come back?
Seth Mitchell: It was pretty cool. That's what you saw, the emotions after the fight. It was how I came back. Like you said, I'd never been in that position before.
Until you get put in that position, you really don't know. For me to pull through like I did, it was just amazing. Actually, it was even better when I went back and watched it on tape. It did take me a couple of rounds to get my whereabouts together. I went back to that corner after the first round and said, "Let's go." And I went in there and got it done.
It was pretty amazing for me to come back, but I trust my training. I trust my training and I trust my conditioning and I trust my trainers. I knew I was able even after being hurt. I came back in the second round and threw 80-something punches because I'm not worried about getting tired. I trust my training.
Luke Thomas: Banks has more experience than you, both as an amateur and has had longer fights than you in professional ranks. Is there a part of you that wishes that with Jonathan or another opponent, that you could go the full twelve, ten rounds? Is there some part of you that would want that experience to add to your resume?
Seth Mitchell: Not really. I believe that my style resonates to the public. I believe I'm on these HBO cards and I'm on this high level because of what I've been doing in the ring. If I were 25-0-1 with 11 knockouts, I probably wouldn't be talking to you and I probably wouldn't be co-main event on HBO almost to the level to where I'm going to headline my own card.
I'm prepared to go one round of twelve rounds when I step into the ring. I know a lot of people question that because I haven't been passed eight since 2010, but fatigue and getting taken into deep waters, that's the last thing that's on my mind. I've prepared very hard. Believe it or not, I actually get stronger in the latter part of the rounds. If I have to go twelve, I'll be ready to go twelve.
But no, if I never go the full distance again it wouldn't bother me at all.
Luke Thomas: Banks has one notable loss to his record, a cruiserweight loss to Tomasz Adamek. In your mind, why did he lose that fight? What did he technically do wrong?
Seth Mitchell: He didn't necessarily do technically anything wrong. Jonathan likes to fight at his pace and Adamek is a good pressure fighter, throws punches in bunches and he keeps the press on. That's what ultimately got him in that fight. He got caught up, but it was a straight up even fight up until that point. Give and take by both fighters, but Adamek, I think his pressure just got to him and wore him down. He got caught, but it was the pressure I think.
Luke Thomas: Banks has the experience edge in some important respects and could arguably want to pressure you. Do you think Banks can work in that kind of zone?
Seth Mitchell: I hope he does. I hope he tries to put pressure on me. I know I can fight. I have decent power in both of my hands. I have a pretty good jab. I let my hands go. The more he opens himself up for punches, the more he's going to allow himself to be hit. I know if I keep touching my opponents, I don't think that there's heavyweight that can last ten, twelve rounds with me as long as I'm touching them.
I'll be surprised if Jonathan comes out and tries to apply a lot of pressure to me. I think he's going to do what he does and try to be a counterpuncher and try to set traps and things of that nature. If he does [put pressure on], we have three or four game plans that we've got in the bag for this fight. Whatever he comes to the table with, we'll be able to adjust.
Luke Thomas: He and the entire boxing world recently lost Emmanuel Steward. What way do you expect he'll respond: to mourn and use it for extra motivation or to mourn and let it be a distraction? Either would be understandable.
Seth Mitchell: I'm really not sure. Hopefully, it'll motivate him even more. I was expecting the best Jonathan Banks before the tragic loss of Emmanuel Steward. If it motivates him more, that'll make for a better fight for the public.
I'm excited. I'm going to be ready. I'm looking forward to nothing less than a victory.
Luke Thomas: Correct me if I'm wrong. Is it true you don't watch tape on opponents?
Seth Mitchell: Very seldom. Very seldom do I watch tape on my opponents. I watch a little bit of tape just to get a glimpse: about four or five fights. I'll watch just to see their style is. If they an aggressive fighter, if they're a counterpuncher, if they run a lot, if they have real good power. I leave that up to my trainer.
I read that, too. Someone said that I never watch tape. of my opponents. That's not true. I don't watch a lot, though. Unlike football where I would religiously go over hours of tape, it's not like that with boxing. I don't watch my opponents that much.
Luke Thomas: What is the difference? In football, you can't win at the highest level without tape. Why is boxing different?
Seth Mitchell: I think boxing is more mental. For me, I think it's more mental and each fight is different. You can watch a fight and styles make fights. A fighter might fight a certain way in this fight and then in the next fight he fights totally different. If you watch a couple of fights and you say, 'Ok, he only can do this' and then you get into the ring and it's totally different whereas in football or in team sports, they have a certain scheme that they run. 85 percent of the time when they line up in this formation, you're going to get one or two plays. If you know that, you can pretty much guess what the play is.
When I played football, 75 percent of the time I knew what the play was before they was going to run it because of studying and the formations that they line up in. They're only going to run two or three plays out of 'this' formation.
That's why I don't watch too much film on boxing. Anything can happen. If someone watched film on me, they might say, 'Oh, all he can do is go forward and be a bull'. I don't have to fight that way. That's all I've had to fight that way because that's what I've had to do to win. If I had to switch it up, I could.
That's just my personal opinion. Somebody else might give you a different answer. I just think every fight is different.
Luke Thomas: If I had to put you on the spot about Banks' most underrated skill, what would it be?
Seth Mitchell: I think his ability to counterpunch and relax. He's a fairly relaxed fighter, but I think his ability to counterpunch.
Luke Thomas: I'm as guilty as everyone else in the media. Did you see the Klitschko vs. Wach fight?
Seth Mitchell: Yes, I did. I thought Wach has a hell of a chin. And Klitschko looked good. He actually looked a lot more exciting in this fight then he has in some of his previous fights. But at the same time, his opponent was just a walking heavy bag, pretty much. He wasn't throwing any punches, basically.
I believe, if I'm not mistaken, he threw 308 punches in twelve rounds and that's just ridiculous in my opinion. But he did touch Klitschko in that fifth or sixth round and got his attention a little bit. I thought it was a good fight. It wasn't a boring fight to watch.