By Gavan Casey
There can often be a strange, cyclical nature to sport. As the UK slowly came to terms with Who Shot Phil in 2001, another London Mitchell was firing his way up the British amateur boxing ladder. Fourteen years or forty fights later, ‘Big Phil’ has recovered from his second shooting, and his East End boxing equivalent has once more set upon the road to redemption, having suffered the demoralising realities brought upon by two shots of his own.
Kevin ‘The Hammer’ Mitchell’s professional boxing career has been as rocky as it has been Rocky. Respective arrests for drugs charges, possession of an offensive weapon and drink-driving intersect two tame defeats at the highest level. And yet, for each loss, a reinvigoration of sorts – though not without a storied battle with personal demons, alcohol and the law. One brief period in 2011 best encapsulates Mitchell’s journey, which is perhaps more befitting of a stage performance at the opposite end of his native city.
Mitchell likely watched Brandon Ríos’ bludgeoning of Manchester’s John Murray from his home, with a curfew tag dictating he be house-ridden by 9pm after a Saturday spent doing community service. The brash Londoner had himself knocked out Murray not four months previous in the British Fight of the Year – a magnificent comeback victory making amends for an infamous scything at the hands of Michael Katsidis in his beloved Upton Park, and 14 subsequently booze-riddled months spent outside of the ring. Kevin Mitchell was back, but in a twist conceivable only within the paradigm of boxing, Romford’s favourite son had spent his week painting fences while his felled friend and foe prepared for his own maiden world title tilt beneath the lights of Madison Square Garden.
Now sporting a shaved head more familiar to his soap operatic counterpart, Kevin Mitchell’s boxing career seems, at last, to be free from the shackles of extraneous drama. At Wembley Stadium last May, the 40 fight veteran showed glimpses of a new-found maturity, bouncing off shots that had previously felled him in his second world title shot in Glasgow, en route to a gutsy if not flawless 11th round destruction of then unbeaten Congolese challenger Ghislain Maduma. His durability was reflective of a training camp untainted by personal issues, and a fighter finally at peace with his life. Where Mitchell’s raw talent was enough to impressively see off the likes of Breidis Prescott in the past, his teak-tough performance versus Maduma saw him add an extra string to his bow. A comfort born of solid preparation replaced the previous uncertainty of pre-fight turbulence.
On Saturday night, Mitchell tops a Matchroom card for the first time as he takes on Nacho Beristain-trained Daniel Estrada of Mexico, for the right to challenge for the WBC lightweight world championship. It will be Mitchell’s first headline slot on Sky Sports since Katsidis, and the dawn of what will surely be a final attempt at writing his name into British boxing folklore. His rangy opponent knows too what it’s like to fall short at the final hurdle – Estrada’s last fight was a 9th round KO defeat to Omar Figueroa for the coveted green strap itself. The Mexican’s 32-3-1 record may flatter to deceive in terms of opponents faced, but his Hall of Fame trainer and world class gym mates – including Juan Manuel Marquez, who incidentally accompanies Estrada in London – would suggest a fighter primed for an upset in front of a raucous crowd in London’s O2 Arena on Saturday night.
Within the physical dimensions of this fight, Estrada’s three inch reach advantage may allow for him to counter over the top of Mitchell’s solid jab, as Ricky Burns in particular seemed to master in their WBO title scrap just over two years ago. Mitchell’s technique and shot selection, however, tend to be stellar. If the Londoner can adjust the radar on his right hand to hone in on Estrada’s questionable chin, expect the roof to be lifted from London’s famous Millenium Dome.
It’s likely Mitchell will need to ride a storm. Estrada won’t stalk and bombard Mitchell like Michael Katsidis, but look to pick Mitchell off from the outside. His pressure will be applied through punches in bunches, and Mitchell will probably be required to slip under Estrada’s own jab if he is to find success in front of his hometown fans. If the likeable Brit can box and move – as he did to perfection versus former Amir Khan conqueror Prescott – his experience versus a higher calibre of opponent and newly discovered maturity may culminate in a stunning result.
Even should Estrada to take a narrow points lead into the latter rounds of an expectedly tense affair, the patience displayed by Mitchell in his previous bout will have instilled a sense of belief that, with sufficient dedication in training and preparation, he is mentally tough enough to blast his way through the brick wall of adversity and come from behind again; a concept symbolic of a ‘one step forward, two steps back-like’ career, which may be approaching a fittingly compelling climax.
Romford’s Rocky has both the infectious personality and talent to establish himself as the dominant Mitchell in London’s East End. A penchant for Guinness has finally been quenched by mentions of world championship success.
Could it finally be Hammer Time?
Official Prediction: Kevin Mitchell TKO 10
Mitchell vs Estrada is live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Saturday night (20:00 GMT)
Let us know your predictions in the comments section below! Gavan can be contacted on Twitter: @GavanCasey or at [email protected]
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