Sharkie's Machine: Put Up Or Shut Up Time For Sharmba Mitchell

10.28.04 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr: Flash back to February of 2001. WBA Light Welterweight Champion Sharmba Mitchell taking on WBC Champion Kostya Tszyu at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the Mecca of Big-time Boxing showdowns.

Tszyu hadn't lost since May of 1997 when "Cool" Vince Philips TKO'd him in 10 in a fight considered the "upset of the year." Mitchell hadn't lost a fight since 1994; a TKO 9 loss to Stevie Johnston and prior to that was KO'd by Leavander Johnson in eight rounds at Lightweight. Since then, Mitchell has carefully stayed away from fighters with the last name Johnson.

On a cold day in February of 2001, two great technical fighters fought a sloppy, somewhat dirty fight. Tszyu even got a point deducted by 'fair but firm' Referee Joe Cortez for pushing in the fourth round. There were no knockdowns but Mitchell went down about five times-wrestling out of clinches. Overall, Kostya landed the better punches and was ahead (on my scorecard) leading into the seventh round, when Mitchell tore a ligament in his left knee and couldn't continue. It was deemed a TKO 7 win for Kostya Tszyu.

In the wake of that fight Mitchell became obsessed with getting a rematch with Tszyu. I can't say I blame him but for a long time, he was annoying to listen to. I think anytime a fight ends because of injury a rematch should be mandatory, that only makes sense. Boxing is not like other sports that have uniform rules and regulations. What's ultimately fair is rarely a consideration in Boxing match ups. That is-unless there's big money to be made.

Life went on.

Four months later, Kostya fought the rugged Oktay Urkal, who was 28-0 at the time. Tszyu won a UD 12 in a much tougher fight then he expected. Five months after that, Tszyu took on the loud talking, flamboyant Zab Judah and knocked him out in the second round with a well timed punch as Judah was going backwards with his hands down, showboating as usual. The dance Judah did trying to get up off the canvas is one of Boxing's funniest highlight reels.

Thirteen months after facing Tszyu, Sharmba Mitchell re-entered the ring to fight a soft touch in Bernard Harris (21-15) and won a ten round decision. Four months later, Mitchell laced 'em up again, this time to face journeyman, Frank Houghtaling, again going the distance and winning a decision.

While the mirror of both fighters consequent outings may look favorable towards Tszyu so far, Mitchell pulled an ace move by taking on "Cool" Vince Philips in November of 2002 and winning a Majority Decision over the man who had TKO'd Kostya Tszyu. It must be fairly noted that Phillips was past his peak at the time.

Every time Mitchell spoke to the press, he was saying the same thing.that he wanted a rematch with Kostya Tszyu. He seemed consumed and obsessed with Kostya Tszyu. Always calling him out and implying that Tszyu didn't want a rematch because he was scared. Mitchell always says he was winning their fight before the stoppage. I don't remember it that way. But take nothing away from Mitchell; he's a very skillful and slick boxer. I suspect that DeMarcus Corley is Mitchell's secret fashion designer. Sharmba's ring attire (those are not shorts, they are skirts!) could do with an overhaul but otherwise; he's a top-notch fighter.

I thought Mitchell got a gift decision over Lovemore N'Dou back in February of this year. Mitchell was outworked and out scored in that one but as is often the politics in "Professional" Boxing, the winner sometimes loses and the loser sometimes wins.

Mitchell sort of made up for his loss to N'Dou last April by going to England and putting a complete beat down on the scrappy but not quite ready for prime time, Michael Stewart. He did this in the MENS Arena; house of Ricky Hatton, on a night Hatton was the featured attraction against no-hoper, Dennis Pedersen, who Hatton beat by TKO 6.

The underlying notion in that event was that Hatton and Mitchell would soon meet in the ring against each other. Of course we know THAT will never happen. Hatton is an exciting fighter-but he's far too over-protected by his promoter to risk a loss against a truly capable and proven fighter like Mitchell. It's a shame that we'll never know how good Hatton really is since he never really steps up and fights the best fighters. I hope Hatton is satisfied with his WBU Title belt. (WB Who...WBU) By the way, instead of fighting Mitchell, Hatton went on to fight Michael Stewart instead, winning by TKO 5. Ironic? Not really.

Mitchell's last fight was a quick TKO 2 victory over Moises Pedroza (I know, I never heard of him either). But Mitchell has been a busy bee.

Outside of being TKO'd by one of the coolest cats in Boxing (Vince Phillips), Kostya Tszyu has impressed me as one of the most complete fighters I've ever seen. Good stamina, heart, patient boxing skills, defense, power, ring generalship, the works. When he fought Ben Tackie, two fights after Mitchell (and Tackie was still very good then) he was flawless.

Eight months after Tackie, Tszyu fought Jesse James Leija, who I consider the Gatekeeper of the division. I was disappointed that he was fighting Leija instead of some of the other top guys in the division but what can you do? You tune in and watch, no?

Well, I expected Leija to get cut so badly from Kostya that it would be a short fight. Leija is a tough customer but he's a bleeder. Surprisingly, it was Leija taking it to Kostya with aggressive punching and slicker boxing, scoring well for the first few rounds. I had Leija winning early on and was pretty shocked. Kostya looked very rusty. But by the fourth round, Tszyu got oiled up and started landing the more telling blows.

Then all of a sudden in the fifth round, Leija's right ear starts to bleed. Kostya must have busted his eardrum with a punch. At the start of the sixth, the fight was called off and Tszyu won by TKO 6.

I thought it was too weird. It seemed like a fix. Leija was doing so well against the Champion when suddenly, the always tough, Jesse James Leija threw in the towel? Hey, it wasn't my ear so I don't know how painful it was but Jesse didn't look to be in agonizing pain after the stoppage. But in previous fights, Leija's age had been showing him slowing after five rounds.

After the Leija fight, Tszyu disappeared from the Ring. With a rematch against Mitchell in the works, Tszyu suffered a training injury, further postponing his rematch with Mitchell, which wasn't necessarily going to happen until Mitchell had earned it. Since Mitchell HAS earned it-Tszyu has given the appearance of avoiding the rematch with all his training injuries.

Mitchell has been active and looking good. For over 20 months-Tszyu has been holding the 140-pound Titles hostage. Mitchell has fought five times in that span. And now, almost two years after the Leija fight-Kostya Tszyu returns. He is 35 years old now and has already accomplished all he could have dreamed in his Boxing career. Mitchell is 34 himself-but he's been active. If Tszyu had ring rust after only eight months last time up against Leija, his return after 20 months should be real interesting.

Outside of the return of Felix Trinidad in his slugfest with Ricardo Mayorga early in the month, October has not been so kind to Boxing Fans. Considering how good Trinidad looked after two years away, who knows, maybe the time away will have benefited Tszyu the way it served Tito?

I can't wait for the arrival of November 6th 2004. It's going to be 'put up or shut up' time for Sharmba Mitchell. If Tszyu is in the kind of shape he says he is in-I expect him to win in impressive style. If Tszyu is rusty-expect Mitchell to jump all over him and try to take his revenge. The Tszyu I recall has the ability to neutralize flashy fighters with excellent boxing skills, timing and finding a home for his big punches. If he's not in tiptop shape, Sharmba might outbox him and win by points. I'm leaning towards Kostya Tszyu coming back strong and possibly winning by knock out in the late rounds.

If Kostya decides not to retire after facing Mitchell, I'd love to see him mix it up with Floyd Mayweather Jr. so there can be no doubt as to who is the best fighter at 140. Can anyone think of a more intriguing match up at 140-pounds?

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Article posted on 28.10.2004

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