Exclusive Interview by James Slater – Former two-time WBA super-middleweight champion Byron Mitchell, 26-4-1(19) returns to action this coming Feb. 20th, when he takes on the 23-3(18) Zach Walters in Buffalo, New York. Now a light-heavyweight, the 35-year-old who has given us memorable fights against the likes of Joe Calzaghe, Julio Cesar Green, Manny Siaca (twice) and “Fabulous” Frankie Lyles, plans to become world champion for a third time.
Very kindly taking time out from training for the Walters fight to speak with this writer earlier today, Mitchell spoke about his most famous fights and his hopes for the future..
Here are Byron’s answers to my questions.
James Slater: It’s a real pleasure to speak with you, Byron. Firstly, how’s training been going for your Feb. 20th fight against Zach Walters?
Byron Mitchell: It’s been going great. I’ve had the experience of sparring with middleweight contender Marco Antonio Rubio in Mexico. Everything went well and I feel great.
J.S: You’re now a light-heavyweight. Did you move up because you were struggling to make 168, or did you just want a new direction?
B.M: Actually, practically my whole amateur career was fought at 175-pounds, so it’s not really a major transition for me. I dropped down to 160 to try and make the 1996 Olympic team, because Antonio Tarver had already gotten his spot at light-heavyweight. But as a pro, I feel just as fast at 175. I know the guys there are somewhat taller and somewhat bigger, but the goal has not changed at all – I still want to become world champion again.
J.S: You feel even better at 175?
B.M: I feel great, yes. I feel better than I did at 168. I still have the necessary speed to compete with the best, and I always did have the power.
J.S: What is your game-plan? Is it to get a few wins under your belt and then hopefully get a world title shot at 175?
B.M: That’s totally up to my management team and my promoter. I’m just doing what I love to do, which is fight. But of course, I want to become world champion again.
J.S: Is there any particular light-heavyweight champion you have your eye on?
B.M: Well, you know as well as I do, that the game changes every day. I can’t really look at one person [to fight] because at any given time the champions can change. An option you may look at can just dwindle. So I don’t focus on any particular name.
J.S: What do you know about Zach Walters, who you will be fighting in Buffalo on Feb. 20th?
B.M: I’ve done a little research. I don’t know too much about him. He’s tall and he has a good 23-3 record. I’m not overlooking him, put it that way. I’m not overlooking him by any means. But at the same time, I don’t think he’s really on my level. I’ve been in with the best – sometimes I’ve lost to the best (laughs). I think my greater edge in experience will be in my corner [against Walters].
J.S: You have had some great wins and you have been in some great fights. What are your memories of when you lost the 168-pound title you’d won against Frankie Lyles – to Frenchman Bruno Girard? Was that a robbery do you feel?
B.M: No, I wouldn’t say so. I think I did enough to pull it out, but at the same time I was not at my best. I was just doing enough to retain my title.
J.S: Then you regained the WBA 168-pound title, of course, by beating Manny Siaca, to become a two-time champion. Was the subsequent loss to Sven Ottke a robbery?
B.M: Yes, definitely. I’d have to say that was one of the most upsetting moments of my career. Ottke was crafty, and I give him credit for being a world champion. But he knows in his own mind that he didn’t win that fight.
J.S: I’ve got to talk about the incredible fight you had with Joe Calzaghe. What are your memories of that fight – a classic short war that was compared to Hagler-Hearns?
B.M: I went into that fight with a lot of animosity. I didn’t really want to take that fight. I didn’t want it at the time. I had personal issues that handicapped me from being at my best. But I had to take the fight, I was kind of forced into it.
J.S: Joe Calzaghe says that was the hardest he’s ever been hit, when you became the first man to floor him. Was the fight stopped too soon, do you think?
B.M: Yes, I think it was premature. I think they’d [Calzaghe’s team] had seen a tape of my fight with Julio Cesar Green where I was down twice in the 1st, but came back to stop him (in the 4th round). I think they knew how dangerous I was. It was definitely a premature stoppage. But I also know what I did wrong in that fight. Day in day out today, when I’m training for a fight, I go over that fight in my mind. I will do so until I finally retire. I would love another go at him, but I know that’s not gonna happen (laughs).
J.S: You never know. Joe is looking at having a farewell fight in Cardiff, Wales. If you were to get a few wins under you belt, he might look at a rematch. The first fight was so good after all.
B.M: Well, I would gladly welcome that.
J.S: To this day, some people refer to Calzaghe as a slapper. Rate his power for us, Byron.
B.M: Joe has respectable power. His speed was what caught me off guard. He was a lot faster than I thought he would be. He does throw amateurish punches. They’re borderline slaps. I do give him some credit, not a lot, but a little. He basically tries to overwhelm his opponents. I’d say he has enough power to make you respect him.
J.S: After that 2003 loss to Calzaghe you had no fights until 2007. Why was that?
B.M: That was in no way planned. What can I say? It was a result of Mr. Only In America – Don King. I’m not the first guy to suffer either. They never called me after the Calzaghe fight. I wanted to fight, and I wanted them to release me if they were not gonna get me a fight. But they just let my contract expire. Now I’m with a new team and I feel great. I feel comfortable at 175. I don’t have to struggle to make weight at all. Actually, even if I’d gotten fights straight after the Calzaghe fight, I’d have moved up in weight anyway.
J.S: It’s been great speaking with you, Byron, and good luck for Feb. 20th. For my final question, how long do you intend to keep boxing for?
B.M: I thank you for taking the time to interview me. Time will tell. I don’t think I’ve lost anything [skill-wise]. I feel youthful, and I feel the same way as I did when I was active. Only time will tell!