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SNYDER: Mitchell carries hope for heavyweights

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Much has changed for boxing since Riddick Bowe successfully defended his WBA heavyweight title against Jesse Ferguson at RFK Stadium in 1993, the last time HBO televised a card in the District.

Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer big-time fights. (Or, more accurately, fewer and fewer big-time boxing matches, as mixed martial arts have stormed to the forefront of professional fighting.) The most prominent boxers fight almost exclusively on pay-per-view, with the rest left to cable.

And since the reigns of Bowe, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson ended, American heavyweights have been uninspiring at best, littered with short-lived, partial champs such as Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, Lamon Brewster and Shannon Briggs.

However, our interest in the big fellas never changed. Smaller men such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones Jr. have carried the sport, but they haven't eliminated the craving for a heavyweight to wrap our arms around.

We'll see the latest great big hope Saturday, when HBO cameras return to the District for a boxing card at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Heavyweight Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell, a native of Brandywine, Md., fights Timur Ibragimov in the co-featured bout before D.C. native Lamont Peterson gets a title shot against super lightweight champion Amir "King" Khan.

Mitchell has fought on the undercard of HBO shows before but never reached the screen. Sporting a near-perfect record of 23-0-1 with 17 knockouts, he doesn't want his first appearance to be his last. And he knows the best way to leave a lasting impression.

"I don't go out there too aggressive and reckless," Mitchell said during a conference call. "But it's an entertainment business. I probably wouldn't be fighting on this card if I was 23-0 with six or seven knockouts.

"I don't want my knockout reign to end on Dec. 10. So I'll be going out there looking for the knockout, but not being overly aggressive. The main thing is I want to get the 'W', and I want to look good doing it."

Mitchell has won eight consecutive bouts by knockout. The only one that went longer than three rounds went five rounds, his last fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Like that bout, Saturday's card is a product of Golden Boy Promotions, and it's no wonder why the company takes a shine to the former Michigan State linebacker.

"Seth Mitchell can be the savior of the heavyweight division," said De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions. "He's a great young rising prospect. [Ibragimov] is a dangerous fight for Mitchell, and I think it will be a real test for him."

Probably the toughest to date since Mitchell turned pro less than four years ago — after a mere 10 fights as an amateur. He's been on a crash course since then but hasn't been rushed, defeating opponents who were equally inexperienced or proven non-contenders. Ibragimov is neither, possessing a 30-3-1 record with 16 knockouts.

Up-and-coming fighters inevitably have to step up in class to reach their goal of a championship belt. Carrying the extra burden of being called America's next great heavyweight doesn't help — except to motivate the opponent even more.

"I have to win this fight," said Ibragmiov. "This is really, really like the fight of my life and that's why I'm preparing hard for this fight."

Underestimating such a veteran fighter could create a pothole on Mitchell's road to a title bout, a destination he figures to reach late next year or early 2013 if the victories continue. A casual boxing fan whose football career was cut short by a knee injury, Mitchell attacks his new sport like a blitzing linebacker with a blindside shot at the quarterback.

If observers think he's the future for American heavyweights, so be it.

"I just believe my style and the way I fight is creating a lot of buzz," he said. "Not only do I look the part — I'm 6-foot-2, 240-plus pounds — but I bring speed and I bring athleticism and I bring the meanness in the ring. And I compete when I'm in the ring.

"Everybody saying that I'm the next great American hope builds a great accolade. But I don't let that blow my head up or think too much of myself. I believe in myself, and I believe I have the tools and the capability of becoming heavyweight champion of the world."

He'll attempt another step toward proving it Saturday in D.C., as the boxing world tunes in.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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