Former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell has made a successful transition from the football field to the boxing ring as a promising heavyweight prospect.
The 30-year-old Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs), who turned pro in 2008, passed a difficult test in his April bout against Chazz Witherspoon when Mitchell was unexpectedly rocked in the first round before rallying for a third-round TKO.
Mitchell takes the next step in his journey toward his first title shot Nov. 17 against Johnathon Banks (28-1-1, 18 KOs) in Atlantic City, N.J., on the undercard of the Antonio DeMarco-Adrien Broner card at Boardwalk Hall (HBO, 10 p.m. ET).
The unbeaten heavyweight recently took time out from his training to talk with ESPN.com about his preparations for the fight:
It's hard enough to switch sports at an advanced age and be successful -- let alone to a brutal sport like boxing. What life experience was most instrumental in preparing you for what it takes to be a fighter?
I had a pretty tough upbringing when I was in Virginia Beach. There was just the regular stories similar to a lot of kids witnessing stuff like spousal abuse and not knowing when your lights are going to be on, or things of that nature. I have literally eaten sardines for dinner; so just that type of upbringing. But at the same time, I still had my mom always there with me, so I still had a lot of love. I'm one of five children, so just to experience those things and try to accomplish something and not have my children or my family go through any of that stuff -- that's a lot of motivation that I have.
What aspect of the fight game has made for the hardest part of your transition?
Even though I'm a pretty good athlete, I would say using my legs to create more space and not falling in on some of my punches.
You were hurt in the first round of the Witherspoon fight. What do you remember about being hurt, and what did you draw upon to rally?
I wasn't out on my feet, but my legs were gone. The whole time in the first round, when I initially started to grab him, I was like, 'OK, you got hit.' My legs were a little tingly, so I thought I needed to grab him and hold on. I didn't want to be macho. These are the things that my trainer, Andre Hunter, and I talk about in the gym -- that when you get hurt, it's not smart to stand there and try to hang with somebody. It's also not smart to run when your legs aren't there. A little jab can knock you down, and that's a two-point round. So you need to tie up and get your composure and control your breathing -- those were the things that were going through my mind. I went to the corner and sat down and I just told them, 'Not today. This is not happening today.' What got me in trouble in the first round was Chazz dictating with his jab and staying on the outside, and I didn't want to repeat the same thing. So I said, 'Let's try and get on the inside.' And once I did that, I noticed he couldn't make the adjustment, and I just continued to dig his body and wore him down. It surprised me that he was gassing in the middle of the second round.
What did you learn about yourself getting an opportunity to overcome that kind of adversity at this point in your career?
It's funny because if you would have asked me how I would have responded in that situation before the fight, that's exactly the way I would have told you. But to actually be put in that situation and come through the way I did, it just confirmed what I already knew. It's just good to go through it. I'm not saying that I want to go through it again in every fight, because I don't. But it's just good to know that you have the wherewithal to stay composed and dig deep and go out there and get the victory. A lot of fans and a lot of people just came up to me and congratulated me on, not just winning, but how I came through the adversity and came back like a champion.
Your next opponent, Banks, not only has the experience of sparring with heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, he was named Klitschko's head trainer in the aftermath of Emanuel Steward's illness and passing. How much do you think that experience will help him against you?
I don't know how much that will help him. Klitschko and I have two totally different styles of fighting. I respect Johnathon Banks and I know he will be ready, but sparring with Klitschko and working in his corner is not going to be the same thing when he gets in there on [Saturday]. Styles make fights, and I think I bring something different to the table.
At this point in your career, is it more important for you to get rounds under your belt or to look impressive with an early knockout?
It doesn't matter to me at this point as far as getting rounds, but it does matter for me to look impressive. Whether I look impressive over a 12-round victory or look impressive in a first-round knockout, my main thing is I want to go out there and get a victory. But at the same time, I understand that this is a business and it's entertainment. I'm in the position that I'm in because of what I have been doing. I am an exciting heavyweight fighter. I put my punches together well. I have speed, and I have power. I think that excites the people, and that's why my style resonates, and that's why I am back on this stage. I don't want to leave this stage, so I definitely want to continue to impress.
Being a prospect in boxing can be precarious. One good or bad performance can decide your fate as a contender or pretender. Do you feel the pressure of knowing that each of your fights is designed to find out whether you're for real?
I don't necessarily feel the pressure. One thing about me -- and this is how I truly feel -- anybody can lose on any given day. I think as a fighter, one knows when he is being protected by his promoter. He knows how far, potentially, he can go. He knows what type of fighter he is. And I say this: Win, lose or draw, it only takes one punch in the heavyweight division. And my style and my heart -- I know I can fight. It's not going to be a walk in the park for any heavyweight out there against me. I'm not saying that I can beat anybody, but I know that I can fight. I know the tools that I have: my heart, my speed, my power, my athleticism. So I don't worry about what other people think. When I was up and coming with, like, 15 or 16 pro fights, that was when I needed to go out there and really, really dominate to get to the level that I am on now and stay there. But I believe that I am in a position now where -- of course I still want to look dominant -- but now the victory is most important. And that takes off some of the pressure.
To most, the heavyweight division appears to consist of two champions (in the Klitschko brothers) and a group of names that either aren't ready for them or never will be. How far away are you from legitimately challenging for the brothers' titles?
I truly believe I am about three fights away. In the latter part of 2013, hopefully I can get that opportunity. I respect the brothers. They definitely represent themselves well in the ring as well as outside the ring. I know a lot of people give them a lot of grief because they are not that exciting. But I say, "Beat them." Just beat them. It's amazing that their knockout percentage is so high, but it just don't resonate to the general public. But they are great champions, and I have a lot of respect for them.
There's an obvious opening right now for a marketable, American heavyweight champion -- a guy who looks the part, talks the talk and can back it up. Is that something you think about, and is it a goal to someday fill that void?
I just go out there and try to do the best that I can do. I believe that I have all the tools: I have the speed, the power, and I believe that I look like a champion and conduct myself like a champion. Most importantly, I'm an exciting fighter. People tell me a lot that they enjoy seeing me fight. They see the passion when I step into the ring, and I think that speaks volumes. I'm just excited about my future and excited about the opportunity and just can't wait to get my crack at one of the champions.