The winning of a prizefight is decided by a complex equation. Combining as it does the unquantifiable x and y’s of the scientific and the visceral, the physical and the emotional. Each aspect of a fighter’s make-up contributes to his equilibrium and the tipping point between winning and losing. These variables are infinite and even at a fight’s conclusion, the outcome can remain subjective and the underlying building blocks for success and failure only ever partially revealed.
First published at www.BleacherReport.com
One contest which left no doubt as to the winner was Kevin Mitchell‘s high-profile defeat to Australian - Michael Katsidis last year. Mitchell appeared to shrink physically in the glare of 14,000 supporters, the enormity of the event and, most crucially, the strength of body and will of Katsidis as soon as Mitchell felt the big left-hook.
There were those who predicted the outcome but the majority bought the theory that Katsidis would fall, as Khan nemesis Breidis Prescott had, to Mitchell’s speed and precise boxing skills. Katsidis, though a natural star on the small screen, does not read scripts. He’s typecast as the brave, come forward brawler but, as Mitchell discovered, he is far more than a one-dimensional ‘gate-keeper’.
No defeat is planned, naturally, but Mitchell’s loss was more than a bump in the road for Frank Warren – who manages and promotes the Eastender. A rare matchmaking mistake? Perhaps. In the aftermath, as there had been when Amir Khan was blown away by Breidis Prescott under Warren’s guidance, there was plenty of questions to be answered.
By the time Warren had a microphone under his nose he was aware of problems in Mitchell’s preparations for the fight, the veteran promoter looked as hurt by the secrecy of this information as he did the result. After all, he had invested a great deal in securing the fight and in projecting Kevin Mitchell as a potential crowd-pleasing replacement for Ricky Hatton in his then star-less flock of young British talent.
The supposed immediate return to action never materialised. A refreshing break became a sabbatical and the idea he would be able to leap back into fringe world-class immediately looked ill-conceived. Conventional wisdom would demand confidence to be restored first, ring rust shed.
During this sabbatical, occasional commentary and rumour on Kevin Mitchell’s fractured preparation and resulting lack of focus emerged. Some confirmed, some not. In the Spring he was pursued as an opponent for John Murray’s debut as a Frank Warren Promotion’s fighter. Murray, newly acquired, was the fighter with the profile and the upward curve. As an observer the opportunity seemed full of paradox for Mitchell. A generous one given his inactivity and thudding defeat but one that also carried more than a faint suggestion he was being used as fuel for the bonfire Warren was eager to light beneath his new Lightweight protegé. Mitchell was the disposable commodity.
Murray is an unforgiving, fit and driven young contender who leaves no room for hesitation or lack of confidence, twin risks for a fighter returning from a long lay off after a morale snapping defeat.
Public negotiations did little to suppress the fear Mitchell was merely singing a song, reading a script. He didn’t seem sincere in his belief or commitment to the sport. Maybe he was as rusty with the psychology of pre-fight hype as he was between the ropes but his rejection of Frank Warren’s fight fee, the suggestion he may yet retire rather than fight Murray all hinted Mitchell wasn’t as committed as he needed to be.
But then something changed. Firstly, Murray fought a late replacement, Karim El Ouazghari, and looked sluggish, lacking his characteristic effervescence. His star dimmed a little. Mitchell went back to the gym, belatedly he signed to fight Murray and began sparring with Ricky Burns and the next time he was interviewed there was a tangible sense something had been renewed. A belief was present, a steel returned to his glare, the hesitation in his voice left.
Kevin Mitchell under the guidance of boxing sage Jimmy Tibbs was at least partially restored. Will it last once the fight starts; when the blows land for real, will the apparent stability in Mitchell’s private life hold steady in the interim? All part of boxing’s intangibles. At the recent press conference the problems which proceeded the Katsidis fight and the importance of Kevin’s mental preparation were best summarised by a dead-pan Tibbs.
It all depends which head he comes with on the night, and this time he will be right, because I’ll be sleeping with him – in separate beds.
Mitchell is a good fighter with neat skills, sharp punches and possesses lots of courage. Courage highlighted by his very sincerely delivered confession that he knew in the dressing room he wasn’t ready. Physically, perhaps, mentally, not even close. That courage marched him up the stairs and into the ring, it was rooted in naivety. The braver decision would have been to delay, as Mitchell conceded at the same press conference, but ultimately it may teach him a lesson which prolongs his career and enables him, by a circuitous route, to be more successful than he would have been without it.
Following a decade or more of British fighters being led to dimly lit cul-de-sacs of the boxing world, ignoring one another, there seems to be a refreshing willingness to risk record and reputation against each other.
And in that context Kevin Mitchell v John Murray is a glowing fixture.