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Kevin Mitchell’s Last Chance

mitchell111By Olly Campbell: On the 30th May at London’s O2 Arena, Dagenham’s Kevin Mitchell will get a 3rd, and possibly final shot at becoming the lightweight champion of the world when he squares off against Japan-based Venezuelan Jorge Linares in the South American’s first defence of his freshly acquired WBC 135lb strap.

Mitchell will headline a bumper card that is to also feature Lee Selby in a world title challenge vs Evengy Gradovich and Olympic hero Anthony Joshua in his rescheduled bout with American veteran Kevin Johnson.

When that summer date finally comes around, it will be the culmination of a long and bumpy ride on the championship-chasing roller coaster for the affable Londoner, that has seen its fair share of highs and lows, triumphs and set-backs, elation and heart-break.

It was back in March of 2008, at that very same venue, that a then 23 year old Kevin Mitchell boxed for the British super featherweight title against gutsy, tough and more experienced domestic rival Carl Johanneson, coming to the attention of the wider boxing public for arguably the very first time. It was on the undercard of David Haye’s cruiserweight destruction of Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli and in the eyes of many, was the start of that emotional thrill ride for the likeable Essex based fighter.

Mitchell (already commonwealth champion going in) began boxing brightly against the Leeds hard man that night, displaying moments of the flashy brilliance that has come to typify his slick fighting style, and thus living up to some of the hype that followed him into the contest. Mitchell looked firmly in control. Fast punches in range, spiteful uppercuts and hurtful shots to the body. When moving out of range, much of the same. Solid footwork and great movement. It all looked so perfect.

Yet Johanneson, with serious intent and the grit of any true warrior, began to start walking Kevin Mitchell down and in the sixth round his constant pressure finally boiled over. He rocked Mitchell badly, sending him into crisis and had it not been so close to the bell and the rounds end, who knows what would have happened? Yet the break in rounds was enough for Mitchell to retain his composure, and he eventually shook off Johanneson’s onslaught and bounced back, knocking out the Yorkshireman in the ninth round.

It was the only shade of real trouble we had seen for Kevin Mitchell up until that point in his career. It would not be the last.

A series of decent wins followed, including against Breidis Prescott, the man who knocked Amir Khan out inside a round, and they in turn led up to that fateful first world title shot (albeit it for a lightly regarded version of the WBO strap) against tough Aussie banger Michael Katsidis. The fight was held at Upton Park, the home of Mitchell’s beloved West Ham United football team and was a massive occasion for British boxing at the time.

One can only speculate as to what exactly went wrong for Mitchell that night. Was it the pressure of the partisan London crowd coupled with the enormity of the occasion? Was it external factors like diet, lifestyle and focus? Or simply that the man who had previously slain Graham Earl on these shores was simply too good and powerful? Katsidis blew Mitchell out inside three dominant rounds after all?

Following the fight, it soon became clear that Mitchell had been beset by numerous family distractions and personal problems in the run up to the fight that had impacted negatively upon his preparations. Quite how such things were allowed to disrupt the man in the build up to the biggest night of his career is anybody’s guess but it soon became clear that, for that moment at least, the “dream” was in tatters for Kevin Mitchell and an enforced exile was necessary if he was to rebuild and return.

When a fighter loses his ‘0’ in such a brutal fashion, it can be the making or the destruction of them. Following the loss to Katsidis, Mitchell had a lot of soul-searching to do and soul-searching he did. He returned some 14 months later, in July of 2011, straight in at the deep end with the best 9st 6lb fighter in the country at that time, Manchester’s John Murray, who himself at 31-0 was an unbeaten British and former European champion going in.

After such a long time out, there were many who tipped Mitchell for a second defeat, as the marauding, bullying style of Murray was similar to that of Katsidis. However, what we witnessed was a punch perfect masterclass that was this writers domestic fight of the year, and the bruised and battered Murray was stopped in the 8th round, ending the need to take more punishment.

Riding high once more it appeared all was back on track for Kevin Mitchell, until he ran into Scotland’s Ricky Burns just 14 months after the Murray fight. It was to end in heart ache once more as the Dagenham man was stopped in 4 short rounds by the classier fighter on the night.

It seems now with hindsight that one mans loss is another’s gain. As since Hearn retained control of Mitchell’s promotion, it would appear his form has returned, also in part aided by his hook up with trainer Tony Sims who once again appears to have breathed new life into The Hammer. This was evidenced last time out in his fight against tough and persistent Juan Manuel Marquez student Daniel Estrada who Mitchell dispatched inside eight impressive rounds.

It was that contest, and the capture of the WBC silver lightweight belt that has led to Mitchell’s chance against Linares, a man who is arguably the most beatable of all the current world 135lb champions. The fact that Eddie Hearn has secured the hometown advantage for Mitchell can be seen as a blessing, or perhaps a curse given what happened with Katsidis back in 2010, yet this is something of a final opportunity for the Englishman, and one he simply cannot afford to squander.

Linares, despite being a 3 weight world champion, has never actually won a belt against a fighter defending his title. Each of his challenges at feather, super feather and lightweight, have come for vacant titles. In his three defeats, he has been stopped every time and it is hard to make a case for his previous levels of opposition being too far removed from Mitchell’s own. In short, this is Kevin Mitchell’s fight to lose and not Jorge Linares’ to win. The only way I see Mitchell being defeated is if he doesn’t turn up and in essence defeats himself.

This wil be the first time Linares has fought on British soil and Matchroom Sport have pulled out all the stops to try and ensure he returns home without the belt he will arrive with.

If the best of Kevin Mitchell turns up, I see him winning a wide points decision that will make the sometimes pedestrian Linares look average. That is how good I believe Kevin Mitchell is and can be. Yet the operative word there is can. Linares does the basics well and has average power but he holds no significant size or reach advantage over Mitchell and that means the only real difference maker here is skill. Kevin, with similar degrees of power, has skill in abundance. For me he is the better boxer, the better mover.

As I have said already, the only thing that is going to beat Kevin Mitchell is HIMSELF. Should he not turn up on May 30th, should he under perform and lose the fight, then I think Frank Warren’s warning of old will finally become a relevant reality. There will be nowhere else for Kevin Mitchell to turn. He will be out in the cold and the dream of winning a world title will be dead. Its that serious. This is it. Kevin Mitchell : This is your last chance.

As always, thanks for reading. Follow me on twitter, I’m new there, for ALL my articles, features and fighter/promoter interviews. @undilutedpoison.

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