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November 19, 2012


Also: assessments of Broner's and Mitchell's performances

Last Saturday’s HBO broadcast was designed to feature legend-in-the-making Adrien Broner’s bid for a lightweight title, but in my view, Johnathon Banks’ second round TKO over the heavyweight division's favorite son, Seth Mitchell, made the strongest impression. The events surrounding Banks' life this last month is currently the most intriguing story in boxing.  With the passing of Banks' trainer/mentor Emanuel Steward, Banks took on the responsibility of not only Steward's job to train heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, but also to prepare for his own battle with the favored Mitchell. Banks was in a pressure-cooker situation as the two fights were set just one week apart on different continents, with Steward's funeral sandwiched in between.  Before this all happened, there was no talk of Banks shifting into the role of a trainer, let alone training someone with the prestige of Wladimir Klitschko.  Banks is only thirty years old, opposed to Klitschko who is thirty-six, which makes the scenario even more unlikely.  Banks and Klitschko both represent Steward’s Kronk Gym and have declared that they will be dedicating themselves to preserve the Detroit-based gym.

So how did it work out? Banks guided Klitschko to a unanimous decision victory over Mariusz Wach in Germany on November 10th, and then returned to the United States to face Mitchell one week later in a fight where he was perceived an underdog.  However, Banks believed in his ability to win, and was inspired to honor his mentor, who taught him everything he knows about boxing.  Banks stopped Mitchell early in dramatic fashion and, amazingly, is now in a position to possibly face the man he spent the last two months training, multi-organization heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
A few years ago at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, I watched Banks struggle to win an eight-round majority decision over Javier Mora on the undercard of Vitali Klitschko-Chris Arreola.  Never in a million years would I have guessed that Wladimir Klitschko-Johnathon Banks would be the best fight that could be made in the heavyweight division, but that’s exactly what it is right now.  Banks would be considered a big underdog, just like every opponent who has faced the Klitschko brothers in the past few years.  But unlike recent heavywight title fights, it would be an exciting climax to a great story.  These two fighters, both wearing Kronk gold, could honor the great Emanuel Steward in a high-profile event, and then go on and work together to preserve the Kronk legacy.  This is a fight that I now want to see. 

Banks and Wladimir Klitschko have both overcome a great deal of adversity in their careers and have accomplished more than what most thought they were capable of (Klitschko to a greater extent).  They are an inspiration to the world, both as fighters and as human beings.
Because of their styles in and out of the ring, many comparisons have been made between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and the newly crowned WBC lightweight champion, Adrien Broner.  A distinct comparison was also being made between Mayweather's 2001 signature win over Diego Corrales and Broner’s capture of the title this weekend from Antonio DeMarco.  It's true that Mayweather and Broner both have a healthy arrogance about them. But in my view, the comparisons are off-base.  Trainer Virgil Hunter said it best when he once told me that Broner “postures” like Mayweather, but his style is different.  In the ring, Mayweather is more technically efficient than Broner.  He is sharp and economical, whereas Broner is more aggressive and spontaneous.  If Broner was as polished as Mayweather, he wouldn’t be able to do some of the things that make him effective.  

Even their antics have sublte differences. In Mayweather’s case, some of his behavior causes controversy, while Broner’s antics are silly and playful.  As for comparing Mayweather-Corrales to Broner-DeMarco, I just don’t see it.  Corrales was an undefeated killing machine when Mayweather dominated him.  In fact, many had Corrales ranked higher on the pound-for-pound lists than Mayweather during the lead-up to the fight.  This time around, Broner was the clear favorite over DeMarco, who had already tasted defeat twice in his professional career.  In my view, DeMarco had not established himself as an elite fighter before Saturday night and was simply outclasded against Broner. 

That being said, Broner deserves all the credit and attention he has been getting as the future of boxing.  He has done what he is supposed to be do against the opposition that has been put in front of him.  He has an entertaining style and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch his career unfold in the coming years.
A lot of people at this time are probably under the impression that Seth Mitchell was an over-hyped fighter who just got exposed.  In my view, that’s not a fair assessment.  True, it was premature to refer to him as the future of the heavyweight division, but that’s the era we’re living in.  The talent pool of American heavyweights is so shallow that when an undefeated fighter gets a couple of decent wins under his belt, he is looked at as something special.  To put things in perspective, Seth Mitchell has done a hell of a job for a guy who has only been boxing for five years.  He’s a good athlete with a strong will to win.  But because of his lack of seasoning, the second-round knockout he suffered at the hands of Johnathon Banks Saturday night was not an unlikely scenario.  There are a lot of subtleties that come with professional boxing that only experience can bring. 

Mitchell showed class in defeat and his words after the fight suggest that he hasn’t given up on himself.  Nevertheless, this is going to be a tough loss for Mitchell to come back from.  Other fighters have come back from knockout losses, notably Lennox Lewis who went on to become even better than he was before.  However, Lewis was already a technically sound fighter with a strong amateur pedigree.  Mitchell doesn’t have as strong of a foundation to fall back on.  Aside from the emotional devastation that he might be feeling, he has a bad habit of sitting on his front foot and leading with his head.  If he doesn’t correct that, he will be vulnerable to getting knocked out again.  Given the state of the heavyweight division, Mitchell has the potential to win a few more fights against top-fifteen, top-twenty opposition.  But because of his late start in boxing, it is likely that the tricks of the trade won’t sink in until after his time as a prime athlete is over.

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