By Derek Bonnett: Oh where, oh where have the great American heavyweights gone? Oh where, oh where can they be?
This is a tune many boxing experts and fans have been singing for the last ten years. Since the end of the1990s, when the heavyweight division included Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer, and Tommy Morrison scattered amongst the top ten, the USA has failed to be a Super Power above 200 pounds. Sure, capable champions like Chris Byrd and John Ruiz built credible reigns over many good names in the division, but neither man was ever able to capture the full support of American fans because both lacked the W.M.Ds in their fists to overshadow Lennox Lewis.
Since the turn of the century, the heavyweight division has essentially belonged to three men. Lewis owned the early years, but since 2005 Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have ruled with much resistance. Since Lewis’ retirement, the Brothers Ukraine have tamed a capable, but not extraordinary, lot of American heavyweight challengers in Byrd, Calvin Brock, Ray Austin, Tony Thompson, Hasim Rahman, Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson, Shannon Briggs, and Eddie Chambers. Thompson, mostly through attrition, has earned a second go at Wladimir on July 7, but has been greeted with meager support from his fellow countrymen. Rahman, by no comprehensible means, will likely try again for a title before the end of 2012.
Even in a mythical Klitschko-free era, it would be a difficult task to identify a long-standing American champion from this assortment of contenders. Not one of them has shown the consistency or ability to take over and boxing fans would likely see an era similar to the years between the reigns of Holmes and Tyson in the early eighties. So, where have the great American heavyweight contenders gone? Some say the NBA and others say the NFL.
Well, good news just might be on the horizon for American heavyweight sympathizers because of one former college football standout who hung up his cleats for good in 2005. Upon graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Criminal Justice and Security Management, Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell, said ’not yet’ to a traditional career and took up the sport of boxing. Before 2007, Mitchell had not stepped inside of a boxing ring. Since turning pro in 2008, Mitchell has built a professional dossier of 25-0-1 (19) and is considered one of the leading American contenders.
"I believe that athletic ability is my gift, but I don’t take that for granted," Mitchell stated. "I work extremely hard. The athletic ability, coupled with my competitiveness, and my will not to lose have all contributed to my quick development."
Wisely, Mitchell’s team has brought him along in the gym with the help of one of the men mentioned earlier, who is no stranger to competing with the best in the business.
"Tony [Thompson] and I have put in around 500 rounds," Mitchell explained. "I started working with him six months into my boxing career. The things he has taught me, as far as fighting through adversity, have helped me develop faster. If I hadn’t started working with Tony as early as I did, I probably wouldn’t be this advanced in my career. He is a world-class fighter. He is a busy fighter and throws a lot of punches. He has an awkward style."
In 2008, when Mitchell first began working with Thompson, "The Tiger", as Thompson goes by in the ring, was prepping himself for his first challenge against Wladimir Klitschko. Thompson fared better than a lot of title challengers at the time, but was eventually TKO’d in the eleventh.
"I think Tony has a good chance to win the [rematch]," Mitchell asserted. "First thing that he has to do is win the battle of the jabs. Then, he has to work the inside and make it an ugly fight. But, I would rate [the Klitschkos] pretty high. I give credit where credit is due. They can handle their own in any era."
Thompson is likely looking down the barrel at his last world title shot, but Mitchell, 30, is inching closer and closer to his first. He has the look of a heavyweight champion physically standing at 6’2" and weighing in around 240 pounds of well-sculpted muscle. "Mayhem" is well-spoken and affable outside of the ring as well as exciting and crowd-pleasing inside of one due to his big punch. However, after being badly staggered by Chazz Witherspoon in April and a recent hand injury, is he ready to carry the burden of a whole nation who wants so badly to praise one of their own as a heavyweight champion?
"There isn’t a lot of pressure," Mitchell said. "I’m grateful for the accolades, but I let others talk about the accolades and I just have to continue to get better. In boxing, you are going to get hit. It’s about how you react when you face adversity. It’s not how you start, but how you finish. I sprained the MCL in my right hand and I was advised to take off 6-8 weeks with no contact. It’s feeling better now and I’m looking forward to getting back in the ring in September. For the next fight, I need to work on giving more angles and having more head movement."
Right now, some of Mitchell’s top contemporaries emerging as contenders and prospects are Tyson Fury, Kubrat Pulev, Michael Perez, and, fellow American, Bryant Jennings. Even concerning his peers, Mitchell is not without praise.
"I think all those heavyweights are good fighters," Mitchell stated. "There are good fights that can be made in the heavyweight division. First things first: somebody has to dethrone the Klitschkos."
Outside of a stunning upset or the help of some miracle pill, it appears highly improbably that we will see either Klitschko dethroned. However, it looks as though Vitali will be ready to hang up the gloves after his next defense against Manuel Charr in September. Yet, in this day and age, "miracle pills" are something a growing number of fighters are taking concern with.
Far too many boxing headlines have centered on failed drug testing and illegal use of steroids and other PEDS.
"I think there should be random drug testing all year around, not necessarily for just big fights," Mitchell suggested. "Careers are in jeopardy if this isn’t monitored properly. If you get injured early in your career, you may not get the chance to participate in a big fight later on."
Unfortunately, in the sport of boxing, dominant champions are not the only roadblocks to success. PEDS, loaded gloves, dirty tactics, poor officiating, and corrupt scoring are enough to make any boxer wish he played...football?
Boxing seems to be the right choice for Seth Mitchell and his career looks about ready to thrive. HBO has taken considerable interest in the heavyweight hopeful and will likely continue to broadcast his fights as he climbs the ladder of contention. Mitchell is probably looking at his recent flub the right way. A lot of heavyweights never get hurt until their big title shots and we are left wondering how they might respond. Mitchell has answered that question for us. When he’s hurt, he regroups and fights harder. His knock just might be a plus. So far, Mitchell has had a great start. Here’s to hoping he can come up with a spectacular finish for American and international boxing fans alike.
Follow Seth Mitchell on twitter at @SethMayhem48 and on Facebook at Seth Mitchell.
For further boxing discourse, contact Derek DBO Bonnett on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org