By Kieran Mulvaney
It’s the ultimate gut check, the moment when a boxer takes a punch that temporarily relieves him of his senses and his equilibrium. It is a moment when he stares at the prospect of sudden defeat and career derailment. It can happen to any fighter.
It’s happened even to Floyd Mayweather, who was rocked twice by right hands in the second round of his contest with Shane Mosley two years ago. The crowd at the MGM Grand that night roared itself almost hoarse in anticipation of a sudden, shocking knockout; instead, it was Mosley who failed the gut check, who, when Mayweather found his legs and fired back, tensed up and lost every minute of every subsequent round.
The night-altering power punch happened last week to Seth Mitchell, the undefeated heavyweight prospect who, in the opening stanza of his fight with Chazz Witherspoon in Atlantic City, took one right hand and then another and then another. Somehow, he survived the round, came out firing in the following frame, and dropped and stopped Witherspoon in the third.
“I knew I was hurt,” said Mitchell on Thursday, as he relaxed in the press room at the MGM Grand. “Cognitively I was there. I saw him, and I could see he knew that he had hurt me. So I was like, ‘I see him coming to me. Grab him. Don’t be macho. Grab him.’ But my legs weren’t there. My mind was there. But I had spaghetti legs. Until I saw the fight [on TV] I didn’t realize I was that hurt. When the ref separated us, I did a little wobble. But I never saw triple Chazz Witherspoons or double Chazz Witherspoons. I just wanted to grab him and survive the first round. And once I survived the first round, I knew I couldn’t have another round like that, and I couldn’t stay on the end of his jab.”
The gut check can go one of two ways. Failure to answer – swiftly, and with authority – begs questions that can result in defeat and deflation. But passing the test can elevate a boxer to another level.
“It definitely makes me more confident,” said Mitchell. “At the same time, I don’t want to go through that again. Because it’s scary, man. Not at one time when I was in trouble did I think, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s about to be over. What am I going to do?’ Not one time did I think that. But after the fight was over, all of it hit. ‘Wow, I almost got knocked out in the first round. That would have set me back four or five fights, a year, fifteen months.’ That’s when all of that hit me, and that’s why I got so emotional.”
It is little surprise that Mitchell identifies Miguel Cotto – like the heavyweight contender, a practitioner of the seek-and-destroy style of boxing – as his favorite fighter. But he does not think that the Puerto Rican will have the opportunity to ask the questions of Mayweather that Mosley did, or that Witherspoon asked of him.
“Cotto can crack. And Floyd has shown that he can get hit, but he’s shown that he can come through adversity,” he noted. “In his last couple of fights, he ain’t been moving, he’s been standing right there in the pocket, putting that shoulder up and sharp shooting. He’s a surgeon in there, and we already know he’s got the dog in him. If you want to stand there and bang with him, he can do that too, and he got the best defense out there. So it’s going to be an uphill battle for Miguel Cotto.”