Kevin Mitchell hasn’t always enjoyed the smoothest of passages since linking with feted father-son training team of Jimmy and Mark Tibbs three years ago. Interspersed between career high wins over Breidis Prescott and John Murray, the ‘Mighty One’ has suffered a crushing world title defeat plus debilitating personal and judicial problems.
However, speaking to boxing writer Glynn Evans yesterday, coach Mark was adamant that the Dagenham Destroyer has never been healthier, in both body or mind, as he tapers down for his crucial World Boxing Organization (WBO) lightweight challenge to Scotland’s Ricky Burns at the SECC, Glasgow on Saturday week.
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What kind of condition was Kevin in when he first came to you and your dad prior to the Breidis Prescott fight?
Well, I have to say that Kevin had all the fighting attributes that you’d desire. I think he was born with them. However, at that time he weren’t that strong physically so we really got to work on improving that by getting Kevin to do a lot of work against his own body weight, lots of groundwork and resistance work. Initially, he found a lot of the drills hard but there’s been a noticeable improvement.
Also, slowly, slowly, we’ve introduced head movement to see if it suited and that’s really working for Kevin. I have to say that Kevin’s got a very good brain with regard to knowing what’s good for him, what’ll work for him.
Subsequently, we’ve had to build up his mental strength because of all that he’s been through. Right now, Kevin’s in the best mental shape mentally that I’ve ever seen him in because going through those negative experiences has really helped him to mature as a person.
He’s finally starting to get good people around him. Bill Ives, who owns Rainham Steel and who’s a huge boxing fan, has been a particularly good influence. At the very start of this camp he took Kevin to Canada for a fortnight and when he came back his head was in a fantastic place. He’s really knuckled down.
Can you explain how Mitchell could look so bad against Katsidis and then rebound so brilliantly in his return against John Murray 14 months later?
Kevin has grown up so much as a man lately. Going into the Katsidis fight, he was on such a buzz, such a high. He’d just taken Breidis Prescott to school and had a fantastic one punch early knockout over a Colombian (Ignacio Mendoza). Personally, I think Kev felt he just needed to turn up at Upton Park and he’d topple Katsidis.
He’d started getting drawn into certain circles. He likes to be nice and sometimes struggles to say ‘No’. All of a sudden, the fight was upon him. He’d sort of played the game in the gym but we didn’t get to hear all the stories of the outside problems he’d been having until after the fight. Naturally, we felt a little let down.
However, long term, embarrassing himself at West Ham that night, has been the best thing that’s happened to him. It forced him to grow up as both an athlete and, most crucially, as an individual.
West Ham was a wake up call and, all credit to Kevin, he didn’t bury his head and reduce himself to a life of sweeping roads. He licked his wounds and listened to me and Dad. Once we’d restored our confidence in him, we set up a very disciplined program for the Murray fight. Me and Dad are a bit obsessive when it comes to a fight. We know we’re not invincible but we always strive for perfection and Kevin followed the plan through to the tee.
Kevin generally fights better than he spars but, going into the John Murray fight, we knew everything had been done right and no stone had been left unturned. He came back sensationally because he’s a proper, proper fighting man.
What state is his head in right now? Why?
His ‘nut’s’ good because of the series of well publicized events that he experienced but somehow came through; the Katsidis loss, the family problems the stuff with the police. Me and Dad were seriously depressed and embarrassed after the Katsidis loss so how must Kevin have felt.
But Kevin’s a smart guy and the lessons he’s learned from all he’s endured have made him a better human being, and through that, a better physical athlete.
Given how fantastic he looked stopping Murray in eight, it must have been very frustrating for the whole camp that it’s taken 14 months to secure another meaningful fight.
Yeah, it has been, of course. Kevin had been ticking over in the gym three times a week waiting for a job and the longer it went the more despondent you could see him becoming. However, the break gave him time to become a better man, more mature.
What specifically does Mitchell have that distinguishes him as such a special fighter?
He’s such a spiteful and vicious little sod with serious, serious punch power. Also, and this is often very overlooked, Kevin is a very, very smart fighter who reads between the lines, instinctively appears to know what’s going on his opponent’s ‘nut’.
On top of that, he’s an exceptionally quick learner. And he doesn’t just pick up the things we teach him quickly, he makes things up himself. He’s very, very creative; delivers stuff out of the normal, hits the target from anywhere!
Tell us about his preparation for this fight. How long’s he had? Where’s he been based?
Kevin’s had a perfect 10-12 week camp. As I’ve said, his nut was in a fantastic place and he was a already half fit gym wise when Bill Ives brought him back to us after his ‘flush out’ over in Canada.
We did our pre prep at the TKO in Canning Town, where Kevin usually ticks over, but needed to try to get Kevin away from there because there’ll be over 100 people training at the TKO. Because Kevin’s such a lovely and popular fella, who makes time for everyone and always wants to please, sessions that should’ve lasted an hour and a half of really intense activity, were tending to last double that.
This is such a huge fight for him that we know we have to get every inch, every minute, out of him. Initially, we’d intended to get Kevin ready at the West Ham amateur gym but, because of all the traffic congestion caused by the Olympics, that wasn’t really feasible.
However, dad’s friends, Riley and Lee Wilson had this gym, The Newlands, at the back of their farm in Wickford, Essex. Though it’s a bit awkward sometimes for me to get to from London, it’s perfect for Kev who lives in Dagenham. He’s been kept away from all the unwanted distractions for six weeks and he’s thriving on all the fresh air.
I have to give his mum Alice a shout. She’s always been there for him, taxiing him to Wickford and to Hainault Forest for his hill runs on Saturday mornings. He hasn’t missed once.
Though it’s a public gym, the Wilsons have shut it down for us and been extremely accommodating regarding all the sparring partners that we’ve brought in. Kev’s done three weeks of very hard sparring with big heavy guys, stand up boxers and brawlers. Kev’s in tip-top nick and we’ve had a fantastic camp.
One thing I have to say is that my Dad has really come alive for this fight. He’s really taking it seriously, really enjoying himself. He’s right on top of everything.
How big an obstacle shall it be going to fight in Glasgow, in champion Burns backyard?
It won’t be a factor. In fact it was Kev’s choice. In boxing, you have to be 110% prepared for wherever you’re fighting. Them Scots can shout and holler all they like, but none of ‘em can get in the ring to help Ricky.
You saw Kevin wasn’t remotely fazed by fighting John Murray before a hostile crowd up in the north-west. Right now, mentally and physically, Mitchell’s an exceptional world class fighter; a proper vicious warrior.
What’s your assessment of Ricky as a fighter? What especially do you need to be mindful of?
Ricky’s tough, man, very resilient. To say he’s durable is a huge understatement. He’s exceptionally strong, both physically and mentally, and he has very sound boxing fundamentals.
Trust me when I tell you this is going to be a battle and a half between two truly world class gladiators with huge hearts who just also happen to be two of the nicest people in our sport.
Why does Mitchell win?
My man wins because we’ve done everything we possibly can to get him 100% right physically and mentally. Trust me when I tell you he’s significantly better prepared for this than he was when he beat John Murray and, in this kind of shape, I just think he has that little bit more flavour about him than Ricky, is a little bit more vicious and spiteful.
But we know it ain’t gonna be easy. It’ll be brutal!