- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

Sharmba Mitchell has been nicknamed “Little Big Man” throughout his boxing career. The moniker goes back to his days as a student at the University of Maryland, when there was not much to celebrate about Maryland athletics other than Mitchell’s success as a fighter.

“Ring Magazine did an article on me when I was in college,” said Mitchell, a cousin of Orlando Magic star and former Terrapins player Steve Francis. “They called me the ‘Little Big Man on Campus.’ It just stuck with me.”

But after 17 years in professional boxing, Mitchell, 34, is a little bigger than he was the last time he stepped into the ring. After 10 years in the junior welterweight 140-pound division, Mitchell will move up to the 147-pound welterweight division when he faces Chris Smith tonight on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Kevin McBride fight at MCI Center.

This will be the Takoma Park native’s first fight since November, when then-undisputed junior welterweight champion Kosta Tszyu stopped him in three rounds in their long-awaited rematch. Mitchell had fought Tszyu in February 2001 and was even with him after seven rounds before quitting because of a knee injury.

Mitchell held the World Boxing Association junior welterweight title for three years. He won the title in October 1998 by beating Khalid Rahilou in Paris and successfully defending it four times (twice in the District) before losing to Tszyu in 2001.

Now Mitchell (55-4, 31 knockouts), who began his career in 1988 as a lightweight and briefly held the North American Boxing Federation lightweight title, wants to win another world title in a new weight class — one that should prove high-profile and competitive if, as expected, Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley return to the welterweight division.

“I am a welterweight,” Mitchell said. “I had been a welterweight for the past four years, but I was still able to get down to 140 pounds and beat up on most of the top junior welterweights. But it was too much of a drain on my body. I had a test when I fought Tszyu four years ago that showed once I got down past 145 pounds, I wasn’t losing fat or water but muscle.

“That was what happened when I fought Tszyu last year,” Mitchell said. “After the first round, I knew I didn’t have any energy left. I tried to fight him and get something done, but my body just didn’t work after that. But Tszyu [who was defeated by Ricky Hatton last week] fought a great fight, too.”

At first, Mitchell said he considered retiring. But he felt he needed to try his craft at a more comfortable weight before making a decision.

“I know I still have it in me,” he said. “I have one more world to conquer, to be the welterweight champion of the world. I am way faster than the welterweights out there. I am still faster than the junior welterweights.”

He is starting with a tough challenge against Smith, a talented fighter with a 19-1-1 record and 12 knockouts.

“I didn’t want a cakewalk,” Mitchell said. “I wanted a tough opponent.”

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