When it comes to heavyweight Seth Mitchell, there are still more questions than answers regarding his future as a legitimate title contender.
That notion was complicated (or simplified, depending on your viewpoint) by his second-round TKO loss to Johnathon Banks in November, when Mitchell was knocked down three times en route to the first defeat of his career.
Mitchell (25-1-1, 19 KOs) activated the clause in his contract for an immediate rematch, and the fight was scheduled for Saturday in Atlantic City on the undercard of Adrien Broner's lightweight title defense against Gavin Rees. But Banks (29-1-1, 19 KOs) suffered a thumb injury in sparring, postponing the fight indefinitely while setting him back a minimum of 6-8 weeks for recovery.
Was the loss merely an early aberration for Mitchell, the former college football standout at Michigan State, on his path to bigger things? Or was the 30-year-old rightfully exposed and foredoomed to journeyman status after picking up the sport too late?
These are the questions that will face Mitchell when he eventually returns to the ring, ideally against Banks -- the fight that Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who promotes Mitchell, said publicly that he's trying to reschedule.
Although Mitchell has yet to prove that his in-ring expertise and combat intangibles are up to the level of a future heavyweight champion, his attitude, character and drive to succeed don't appear to be far off. Mitchell talked with ESPN.com recently about his desire to rebound from such a devastating defeat:
What drove you to seek an immediate rematch with Banks after such a convincing and dominant defeat?
I don't think that he is a better fighter than I am, and after reviewing the tape, I saw a lot of mistakes that I was making. I wasn't getting outclassed. That would've been a different story. I was controlling the fight all the way until I got knocked down. He did what he was supposed to do, and I gave him credit for that. I just don't think that I was outclassed -- I was winning the fight.
What did you notice about yourself right away upon watching tape of the fight for the first time?
I surprised myself by going out there and reaching and lunging, knowing that I can't do that against a counterpuncher. It frustrates me when I watch the tape. He did what he was supposed to do. I don't feel like he caught me with a lucky punch. He's a counterpuncher and waits for his opponents to make mistakes and try to capitalize on it.
What do you remember about the sequence in the second round when a Banks left hook knocked you down the first time? How conscious were you of your surroundings when you reached your feet?
The shots that you don't see tend to hurt you the most. That was an equilibrium shot high on the temple. From there, I never really was mentally out of it, but it's just one of those situations where sometimes you can't recover because you're legs aren't there and it only takes one more shot. I felt afterward that if I could've just made it out of that round I would've won the fight. But if that happened, I wouldn't have learned what I needed to learn from that fight. It was easier for me to put it behind me and come back from that, because I was never one who believed I couldn't be beat. I think I had the right mindset. Anyone could get beat, it's just how you brush yourself off and how you come back from that, and I'm looking forward to doing that.
What were your emotions after the third knockdown when you saw the referee standing over you waving his arms? Were you able to immediately grasp the impact of what the defeat meant to your career?
Inside my head, I was like, "Damn!" I couldn't believe it. For the referee to wave it off, it was just like, "Damn!" But I can't fault him when you are in a fight that you get knocked down three times in. The first two days [after the loss] were just, like, disbelief. It took me about a week to watch the fight, but I saw a lot of things that I was doing wrong and I was back in the gym by the first of December.
You're young and we're talking about only one defeat, but what was the immediate reaction of those closest to you after the knockout? Was there anyone that encouraged you to reconsider this late transition to boxing?
There is a lot of fair-weather fans out there and a lot of people that will be in your corner when things are going good. But I have a strong support base that really doesn't care about boxing. All they care about is me. In times of need like that, those are the people that I lean on. I don't have a lot of "yes" men in my corner. As far as me having doubts about my career or doubts about myself, that has never crept into my mind at all. It was hard to swallow that loss, but I was very confident in my abilities and just wanted to get back to the drawing board.
You've said publicly that the loss made you a better fighter. So is there any part of you that believes this loss was supposed to happen and that you needed this in order to get to wherever you are headed in your career?
I believe that's just how I look at life. With my faith, everything happens for a reason, whether it's good or bad. You just have to know what God wants you to learn from that situation. That's just how I took it, and I don't regret anything. I wouldn't be who I am today without the trials and tribulations that I went through in my life. This loss is just another hurdle and I'll get over it.
Going right after this immediate rematch was, in many ways, a bold move and a gamble. Do you feel like you are going all-in on your career by taking this fight in such a high risk/reward situation?
I don't feel that it's a gamble, but at the same time I know what I'm getting myself into. I won't necessarily say that [if I lose] it's a career-ending fight or anything like that. But back-to-back losses against the same person can set me back and that's not something that I want to happen. I've always said that in this business I want to be where the stakes are high. But when I gamble or make a bet, I don't bet with my heart, I bet with my head. I have a great chance to win this fight.