But now, seven knee surgeries later, a former linebacker has gone from the football field and into the ring in an attempt to bring the heavyweight title back to the United States.
Seth Mitchell, a Brandywine native, is 25-0-1 in his professional career -- 19 of those wins coming by knockout. He is the No. 12 heavyweight in the International Boxing Organization Top 100 and one of the premier American fighters in the world right now.
“I try not to let it overwhelm me. I need to take care of my business and stay humble,” Mitchell said of trying to win the heavyweight title. “One thing about this business, there’s not a lot of room for failure. It’s not like basketball or football. It’s not a seven-game series. You can definitely get lost in the shuffle if you have a bad performance.”
The 30-year-old dreamed of playing professional basketball as a kid, but his height hindered that. So instead, he pursued football and following a stellar high school career for Gwynn Park, he landed on scholarship at Michigan State.
Mitchell made 103 tackles for the Spartans as a redshirt sophomore in 2003, but damage to the articular cartilage in his knee shortened a once-promising career. Prior to his junior season, he was named preseason All-Big Ten.
Mitchell stayed in East Lansing to get his degree in criminal justice and in 2005, began circulating his resume like any other graduate. He then watched former Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski in his professional debut at Madison Square Garden, and Mitchell thought he could follow a similar path. The two don’t have much of a relationship other than a brief phone conversation they shared about five years ago.
“I was a casual fan,” Mitchell said. “I never thought about actually boxing. Once I saw him, I knew it was possible.”
After a short, one-year amateur career, Mitchell took off. The 6-foot-2 heavyweight, nicknamed Mayhem, won his first bout by unanimous decision in January of 2008. He brings a combination of size, speed and athleticism to the ring that has yet to be challenged.
“The ability to move, the skill, the power, the athleticism,” Mitchell’s trainer, Andre Hunter, said of his fighter’s strength. “And to be able to pick up things I’ve seen other fighters not pick it up when they first start.”
Mitchell still represents the university he attended and has used his football background to his advantage. His all black trunks are lined with green lettering that read 'Spartans' on the back waistband. The No. 48, which Mitchell wore in college, is stitched on the left front leg of his trunks.
His background has made Mitchell the superior athlete nearly every time he steps in the ring. Mitchell said it takes much more than quick punch speed and movement to be successful. His most valuable asset is will and mental fortitude.
“You can’t look through a microscope to see that,” Mitchell said. “I’m mentally strong. That’s a key component in athletics in general but especially in boxing. It’s different walking into that ring than playing football.”
Mitchell was scheduled to fight Johnathon Banks on Sept. 15 at MGM in Las Vegas, but that fight will not go on as scheduled. He will likely fight again in October.
Mitchell is still considered very young by boxing standards. He has been fighting for just five years, but has already shown signs of maturity well beyond his years.
“He just needs more experience,” Hunter said. “That comes with keeping fighting. That will improve him in itself. He’s always trying to be a better.”