Boxers are fairly unique among human beings in that they regularly and consciously place themselves in harm's way as part of their job description. The list of such instinct-defying professions is short: It includes other kinds of fighters, mixed martial artists, say, or Secret Service agents, who are trained to turn themselves into meat shields. The world offers plenty of risky career choices, but few of them where enduring violence is demanded.
Yet even by the daring standards of his profession, DMV heavyweight Seth Mitchell on Saturday is taking on an exceptionally dangerous mission when he steps into the ring with Chris Arreola on Showtime. The choice has earned him respect from fans and writers, but also spawned a certain amount of confusion — why would Mitchell, two fights removed from being knocked out by a smallish heavyweight in Johnathon Banks, get in there with a heavy hitter like Arreola? It's a difficult style match-up for Mitchell, who has plenty of his own power, but then, Arreola has shown he can stand up to big punchers.
So why did Mitchell want this fight so bad?
"I don’t shy away from anybody," he told TQBR Monday, just before heading to the gym for a Labor Day session meant to keep him sharp and review the fight plan. ("Boxers don't have holidays," he said.) "This is boxing. If you want to go certain places, you’ve got to take dangerous fights to prepare you for where you want to go."
Although he said repeatedly he doesn't listen to his critics, he seemed aware of what they are saying, have said in the past and might say even should he win Saturday.
As risky a fight as this one looks to many, it wasn't so long ago that people were saying the same thing about Mitchell's last fight. After the Banks loss, a number of fans and writers (including this one) thought he should bypass the rematch clause and rebuild slowly. But he took it, he won and now he's moving forward.
"Winning the rematch, I didn’t want to take a lateral step or step down. I wanted to jump up," Mitchell said. "It’s high stakes, high rewards in this business… My main objective is to become financially secure and win the heavyweight championship. I think I’m on the right path."
And that's no matter what anyone else thinks, even those who have wandered aloud whether Mitchell's taking this fight for one last big paycheck: "People thought I shouldn’t have taken the Timur [Ibragimov] fight. Chazz Witherpoon — my last three or four fights, people questioned my team’s thought process and my thought process. I'm not going to please everyone," he said. "I’m fully confident in my abilities."
Mitchell handled Ibragimov impressively. Against Witherspoon, Mitchell was rocked but came back for the stoppage win. He was quickly dispatched by Banks in two rounds last year only to win a dreary 12-round unanimous decision over Banks in the rematch. It's not the norm for fighters to lose by early knockout then sign up for the same opponent immediately afterward, and for a fighter toward the beginning of his career, sometimes not an advisable one — as David Price learned this year when he was knocked out by veteran Tony Thompson not once but twice.
Although Banks and Arreola could not be less alike, Mitchell said he learned some things from the Banks battles that could come in handy against Arreola, too.
"They’re different fighters but what I learned from the Johnathon Banks fight is, I learned I can’t always be a bull. I have to be more patient about judging my balance and distance," he said. "I still made mistakes in the second fight. You've got to keep your eyes on your opponent. I've got to tighten up my defense. Lunging and reaching — that’s a no-no. Just the basics. Him being a big puncher, I've got to sharpen up on my defense. I can’t be lunging and reaching — that's how you get knocked down."
Banks' reluctant performance in the rematch was another fan-mystifying moment in Mitchell's career, with some even wondering whether Banks was trying to lose. Mitchell got an up-close look at that performance.
"If people watch boxing, they know Banks is not a volume puncher anyway. No matter who he’s fighting, I've seen fights where he averages 20, 25 punches (a round). He doesn’t push the pace," Mitchell said. "He's a counterpuncher, he waits for his opponents make mistakes. And I countered. I was a bull in the first fight, I've been the bull in a lot of those fights. This fight I said I would fight off my back foot, and that's just what I did. Plus he knows I can punch, too, so he didn’t come in and get reckless."
Mitchell said he wanted the Arreola fight for another reason: It should be an exciting fight. Maybe he doesn't listen to the critics but he had to have heard the boos during the Banks rematch, and he said the fans want this fight and that his style and Arreola's complement one another. Few would disagree with that.
Arreola has said he wanted this fight, too, because he "hates" Mitchell. (Arreola has also threatened to "bring the heat up his ass," a physiologically mind-bending objective.) Mitchell said he wasn't paying too much attention to what Arreola was saying, other than to notice he's been talking a lot.
Nor did Mitchell know why Arreola would hate him. Whatever criticisms people have of Mitchell's abilities, he's rarely described as anything other than "likable."
"Don’t know, don’t really care. That’s just him talking," Mitchell said. "I think that’s nervous energy. He knows he’s going to be in a fight on the 7th. I really don’t even read all that stuff. It can frustrate you and get you angry."
There's been some talk from his promoter, Golden Boy, to match the winner of Mitchell-Arreola with Deontay Wilder. Mitchell said he had "no thoughts on that. My objective is Arreola."
Although he wouldn't talk about his game plan, Mitchell said there wasn't just one — there would be two or three. He's preparing for the best version of Arreola, he said. Arreola does have a tendency to come into fights overweight, less so in recent bouts, and some thought he was less fearsome than usual against Bermane Stiverne. Mitchell can already anticipate the next round of criticism: "Once I win this fight they’re going to say Chris Arreola was washed up."
But on Saturday afternoon, before he fights, he'll be watching Michigan State football, his athletic claim to fame before becoming a ballyhooed American heavyweight prospect. "I think we’re going to do good and contend for the Big 10 championship," he said. "Our defense is a our strong point. The offense coming along will be key."
Sounding poised and worry-free in the face of the danger posed by Arreola, he said of his pre-fight plans, "I'll be relaxing and watching the game." It won't get him too amped up? OK, he admitted for the first time in the interview: "I might have to calm myself down."
Then he'll take his turn getting everyone else out of their seats in Indio, Calif., right in Arreola's backyard.
"It’s gonna be a good fight," he said. "I’m gonna do my thing. I’m very confident. Everybody tune in on the 7th."