The days of earning credibility in boxing are gone, crushed by Al Haymon, whose out-of-control relationships with television networks have left us with this: Unproven fighters propped up to be stars. The influential advisor -- whatever that ambiguous title means -- that has shoved Gary Russell Jr., Keith Thurman and, most recently, a collection of medal-less 2012 U.S. Olympians onto your flat screens is also the man behind Seth Mitchell, the middle linebacker turned boxer who despite no resume whatsoever is collecting large paydays and motoring towards a world title shot.
This is not meant as a hard knock on Mitchell, an affable, hard-working heavyweight who at an advanced age (30) has clawed his way to respectability. At Michigan State, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder was a self-described bruiser, a fearsome tackler who lived for contact. A knee injury limited Mitchell to just 17 games as a Spartan, sabotaging what likely would have been a long NFL career.
He picked up the gloves late, at 24, in large part because of the modest success Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski had in the sport. His power was evident early and blossomed later; Mitchell (20-0-1) has won his last 10 fights by knockout, prompting some corners of a heavyweight starved country to wonder if Mitchell was America's answer in the division.
"I never proclaimed myself to be the great American hope [or] the great American heavyweight," Mitchell said. "Honestly, now I just try to work hard, to stay humble, stay focused, and try to reach my goals. I believe in myself and I believe that I have the ability to become heavyweight champion of the world."
But something happened on Mitchell's climb to the top. He signed with Haymon, with powerhouse promoter Golden Boy, and the competition leveled off. He knocked out Timur Ibragimov in 2011, notable in the sense that Ibragimov had never been stopped but cheapened by the fact that Ibragimov was faded, in his late-30's and one year removed from his last fight, a split decision loss to an equally ripe Jean Marc Mormeck. Next up was Chazz Witherspoon, last April, who had not beaten anyone of note, ever, and had not been in with anyone credible since Tony Thompson flattened him three years earlier.
At a time when Mitchell should have been looking for reputable opponents who could give him rounds, he was getting early nights. Consider: In five fights over the last two years, Mitchell has gone a total of 11 rounds.
"I didn't think that I was going to stop Timur in the second round or Chazz," Mitchell said. "I felt both of those fights was going to go about six or seven rounds. I know a lot of people that are waiting to take me into the deep woods because I haven't been past eight [rounds] since 2010. But conditioning is the last thing that's on my mind when I step into the ring."
On Saturday, Mitchell will face journeyman Johnathan Banks (28-1-1) in the co-main event at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. (10 p.m., HBO). A protege of Emanuel Steward, a friend and sparring partner of Wladimir Klitschko, Banks has toiled mostly in Europe in recent years, fighting on the undercards of brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko's bouts. Banks lost his biggest fight -- a ninth round knockout to Tomasz Adamek -- in 2009 and hasn't been in with anyone of note since.
Banks might give Mitchell a few more rounds than Ibragimov or Witherspoon, but he won't give him much more. So, really, what's the point? Mitchell needs challenges if he truly wants to be the heavyweight champ. He needs Cris Arreola or David Haye, Tyson Fury or David Price. Wladimir Klitschko told SI.com that he would love to fight Mitchell, and why wouldn't he? Right now, it's easy work.
The paychecks will keep coming for Mitchell because, well, that's what Haymon does. There are 'names' like Adamek and Sergey Liakhovich out there that, as they continue to age, will be ripe for the picking. It will be an admirable accomplishment for a fighter who knew nothing of boxing until he threw his first punch. But if Mitchell truly wants a chance to unseat a Klitschko, he needs to do much more than that.