As a heavyweight title contender and former linebacker at Michigan State University, Seth Mitchell has spent most of his life absorbing the kinds of blows that leave most men crumpled in a heap.
Heck, Mitchell himself was stopped on a second-round technical knockout by Johnathon Banks in his last match on Nov. 17.
But nothing that he ever experienced on a football field or in a boxing ring prepared him for the kind of body blow that life often throws at us. Two weeks before the most important boxing match of his career - a rematch with Banks - Mitchell and his wife, Danielle, suffered the still birth of their third child.
"Crazy. She was 34 weeks, perfect pregnancy and everything. It was another son,'' he said quietly.
Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn was a beehive of activity for Tuesday's media day workouts in advance of a card headlined by a welterweight title match between Paulie Malignaggi and Adrien Broner at the Barclays Center on Saturday night. As other boxers skipped rope, hit the heavy bag and pounded the mitts of trainers, Mitchell sat slumped in a chair in a cramped office in the gym, trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy.
In measured tones, masking the underlying emotional pain from hearing the worse news an expectant parent can hear, Mitchell recalled the day that shook him to the core.
He was driving around near his home in Maryland, getting a series of medical tests for his match against Banks when he got a call from his wife telling him that something was wrong and to meet her at the hospital. She had gone to the doctor because her stomach didn't feel right. After placing a stethoscope on her stomach several times they couldn't hear the baby's heartbeat.
Mitchell rushed to the hospital in time for the still birth of his son.
"He looked just like me too,'' he said. "You know they say after six months your baby doubles its weight because that's when he was going to do most of his growing. She gave birth six weeks early and he was 19 inches and 5 pounds 8 ounces.''
Mitchell said there is no comparison to the feeling of that loss. It's a million times more powerful than losing your first career boxing match by TKO.
"It's funny because I found out she was pregnant on the 18th of November. I fought on the 17th of November,'' Mitchell said. "The day after (the loss to Banks) we found out she was pregnant. Of course I was happy, but the loss and everything was killing me. It wasn't the excitement that I was expecting. I couldn't wait for this fight. She was due on July 14th. I was so happy and excited that, good Lord willing, I'd take care of business in the fight and two or three weeks I'd be welcoming my son.''
Mitchell can still take care of business against Banks on Saturday night. Sadly, he won't be welcoming his new son.
"Everything happens for a reason. I'll drive myself crazy to keep wondering why it happened,'' Mitchell said. "God has blessed me with two beautiful children (a 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son).
"Some people out there don't have kids and have had numerous miscarriages or can't get pregnant. It sucks,'' he said. "I'm not saying that I don't say, "Why?'' But I realize that we don't control everything.''
In a smaller, less significant way, Mitchell, 31, learned that lesson when he lost to Banks last fall. Banks had come into the match riding an emotional wave due to the death Emanuel Steward, his trainer and mentor. Steward had taken Banks into his home in Detroit when Banks was a teenager, tutoring him as a trainer and boxer.
Banks worked with Wladimir Klitschko alongside Steward. And when Steward died, Banks worked Klitschko's corner for his title defense against Mariusz Wach on Nov. 10. A week later Banks, a former cruiserweight contender, pulled off a stunning upset over Mitchell, who was on the fast track to meet Wladimir or his brother, Vitali, for one of their championship belts. Banks dropped Mitchell three times in the second round before the referee called a halt to the match.
"I was surprised how quickly it happened,'' Andre Hunter, Mitchell's trainer said of the TKO. "It's the nature of the beast when it happens.''
It was so quick and stunning, Mitchell, with a record of 31-1-1 with 19 KOs, wanted an immediate rematch.
"I truly feel like I'm better than Jon Banks,'' Mitchell said. "If Johnathan Banks would have outclassed me for five or six rounds and then I got stopped, we wouldn't be doing a Johnathan Banks rematch right away. That wasn't the case. I feel like made a lot of mistakes.''
Mitchell could be deluding himself. But Hunter is backing the immediate rematch.
"We saw the mistakes, we worked on the mistakes and we corrected the mistakes,'' Hunter said. "It's on his mind. So there's no better time to do it than now.''
Mitchell said the same competitive nature that kept him from clinching and grabbing when Banks hurt him is driving him forward for the rematch, which was originally supposed to take place on Feb. 16 before Banks injured his thumb and forced a postponement.
"I've always excelled in sports. I like competing. My niche is winning,'' he said.
Growing up in Virginia Beach, Mitchell was a school yard legend who earned the nickname "Little Superstar'' by dominating older kids in football and basketball. His mother moved Mitchell and his brothers and sisters to Brandywine, Maryland when he was 12 years old and his athletic gifts traveled with him. He was a two-sport star (football and basketball) until he decided to concentrate on football his sophomore year. As a standout linebacker, Mitchell was the first player to have his jersey (No. 48) retired at Gwynn Park High School. He played at Michigan State before a knee injury ended his football career in 2006.
It was another college football player that attracted Mitchell to boxing.
"I was watching The Contender in 2006 and I saw a highlight on ESPN of the Malignaggi-Cotto fight at the Garden. Tom Zbikowski, safety for Notre Dame, fought on the undercard,'' Mitchell said. "I was like "What? Tom Zbikowski, a cat that I play against every year, is boxing and having success. If he can do it, I can do it.''
Zbikowski is a part time boxer and a fulltime safety for the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell has worked overtime to get in a position for a possible world championship match against one of the Klitschkos.
After the loss to Banks - the first of his career - Mitchell is looking at the career arc of Wladimir Klitschko as inspiration.
"He won a lot of fights, but he got knocked out twice and then here come the critics: 'He's never going to be anything. He doesn't have a chin.' He went back and saw that he couldn't continue to do the same thing if he wanted to reach the apex of what he wanted to reach. He got better.''
Mitchell recognizes that a second loss to Banks will not end his career, but it will put him in a lower income earning bracket. He doesn't want to take that step down.
That is just one of the things that Mitchell used to think about. In the last two weeks, with the stillborn birth of his son, his mind wanders to other places. The "Why?'' battles for space with the "What-If.''
"I try to put it aside. Most of the time when I go to the gym, I'm fine.'' Mitchell said. "I have my moments when I'm driving to the gym, the quiet moments when I break down and get a little emotional. I try to be that rock and be strong when I'm with my wife.''
Mitchell said his faith leads him to believe that everything happens for a reason. And that is enough for him right now.
"God allows you to go through adversity for you to learn what you've been taught from a spiritual nature. In boxing adversity makes you stronger and makes you better,'' Hunter said.
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