Boxing: Calzaghe's world title under threat from Mitchell

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The Independent Online

Often in boxing the most difficult opponents are the most boring, and tomorrow night Joe Calzaghe meets Byron Mitchell in a fight that is extremely dangerous.

Calzaghe, 30, will be defending his World Boxing Organisation super middleweight title for the 13th time against Mitchell in front of a wildly partisan crowd at the Cardiff International Arena but home advantage means little in any fight between experienced pros.

Mitchell, 29, has been an influential but neglected player in the super-middleweight division for about three years and has always conducted himself with class on both sides of the ropes. The Florida native has lost just twice in 28 fights and was the World Boxing Association champion in March of this year.

The most threateningof Mitchell's credentials is his proven ability to snatch victory in the closing stages of gruelling fights. In June 1999 Mitchell was trailing heavily on all three scorecards before knocking out Frankie Liles in round 11 to win the title for the first time, and he did the exact same thing in March 2001 when he beat Manny Siaca in the 12th round to win the title for the second time.

Mitchell lost his first title on points in Paris to the Frenchman Bruno Girard and his second reign ended when he the fought current International Boxing Federation champion, Sven Ottke, in Berlin in March this year. The Ottke defeat was a split decision and that was the last time he fought.

During the last two months three or four decent fighters have been linked with Calzaghe for tomorrow night's fight but none would have brought to the ring the very real danger that Mitchell does. It is hard to argue against Mitchell being the best fighter that Calzaghe has fought during his 10-year career and its unbeaten sequence of 35 fights.

However, Mitchell, while being a respectable puncher, is a gently spoken nice guy with technical ability rather than rugged charisma and he arrived in Cardiff this week promising a good, clean fight and clearly happy with the prospect of meeting a good boxer. Mitchell, in other words, is a bit dull for the extreme end of the boxing market and that is exactly why his fight with Calzaghe is so intriguing.

There was a time when Calzaghe looked destined to join the Nineties legends Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins as one of the nation's best known fighters. In 1997, Calzaghe beat Eubank to win the title but since then, in 12 solid defences, he has struggled to get the recognition he deserves. That should change tomorrow evening, however, in what is surely one of the very best world title fights to take place in Britain for many, many years.