Kevin Mitchell entered the biggest fight of his career, at the home of West Ham United football club, to the Hammers theme tune of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” – belted out by the Punk band, The Cockney Rejects. However, on an evening that held so much promise and hopes for the Dagenham man, they were ultimately shattered by Australian Michael Katsidis, who impressively retained his Interim WBO Lightweight title with a sensational third round stoppage win on Saturday night
Australian warrior, Katsidis, fighting in front of a large partisan crowd appeared entirely unperturbed at being the away opponent and was brimming for the action to begin. In the dressing room beforehand, Katsidis was seen sporting a head guard and engaging in light sparring and in the ring he was ‘chomping at the bit’, menacingly pacing the ring and exercising spiteful shadow boxing drills.
Prior to the first bell, Katsidis and Mitchell were primed for battle both walked closely into the centre of the ring - eagerly anticipating the first bell. An eagerly awaited duel was about to commence, rightly billed as a genuine 50-50 match-up and potential fight of the year, we were about to learn if Mitchell could continue his impressive performances against the vastly experienced, world class warrior.
Could Mitchell cope with Katsidis relentless all-action pressure? Could he outbox Katsidis in similar vein as he did against Breidis Prescott? Would Katsidis be able to walk Mitchell down and land his power shots or would he be halted coming in by Mitchell’s arsenal? These were just some of the intriguing questions that were about to be answered as the drama commenced.
The opener was a cagey first minute with both fighters working behind the jab. Mitchell, using effective feints, landed the cleaner jabs, however, Katsidis, bobbing and weaving with a ‘peek-a-boo’ defence was about to slip into range and unload his spiteful headshots. The first assault was impressive, momentarily forcing Mitchell onto the ropes and getting through with a left handed head shot.
At the close of the opening round, Katsidis launched his second raid, an incremental improvement on the first, with the Toowoomba man landing a strong clean head shot with his right hand.
At the interval, Katsidis' trainer, Brendan Smith, could be heard telling his fighter to move in a little bit quicker when launching his raids.
The second round began with Katsidis showing excellent footwork, bobbing and weaving in and out of range, making full use of the ring with his lateral movement – trying to bide his time for Mitchell to make a mistake. Similar to the opening round, Katsidis stepped up his natural high-pressure pace by following trainer Smith’s instructions, moving in quickly to unleash his punishing shots. Mitchell, attempting to quell Katsidis menacing advancements, doubled up his jab – but this merely rebounded off Katsidis' gloves. Mitchell managed to avoid the earlier pressure work and landed a good counter right.
However, Katsidis was getting closer and eventually backed Mitchell up on the ropes and teed off, landing a hurtful right. Mitchell got himself off the ropes but Katsidis was like a magnet and chased Mitchell to the other side of the ring, before the bell sounded to conclude the second session.
Vastly experienced trainer, Jimmy Tibbs, used the break to caution Mitchell not to get caught on the ropes. Tibbs urged his man to keep using his jab to unsettle Katsidis, and to follow that up by unloading combinations with a power shot finale for good measure. Excellent corner work by Tibbs; wise words delivered with authority and gravitas. At the start of the third session, Mitchell bounced onto his feet, looking pumped up and probably with good intentions to heed Tibbs' wise words.
Mitchell started off using a busy jab and he looked to be putting more snap into them. However disaster was about to strike. The first symptoms of Mitchell’s eventual downfall were the faults in his footwork. Instead of moving in and out of the pocket to land his stiff jabs, he rarely stepped out of range and in doing so – inviting Katsidis on to him. Rather than pop the jab and get out of range against a relentless puncher like Katsidis – Mitchell remained in the pocket and vulnerable for Katsidis counters.
Moments later, the fight was turned on its head when Mitchell tried to land a left handed body shot and swayed to the left, leaving himself wide open for a clean left hook, that was followed by another hard left hook to the top the head – wobbling Mitchell as he fell back onto the ropes. Katsidis moved in for the finish but Mitchell tied himself to the Australian in a bid to buy precious time to allow his head to clear.
Katsidis went on to get through with several more punishing headshots, in particular another big left. Mitchell was in trouble and with more than two minutes remaining on the clock he remained static, rather than try to make full use of the big ring to try and evade the marauding Australian. Worse, Mitchell then engaged in the fight that Katsidis wanted, a toe-to-toe trade-off. Mitchell landed a good uppercut but Katsidis stepped up his relentless pressure and again forced Mitchell onto the ropes. Katsidis teed off and nailed Mitchell with a concussive left handed head shot and followed up with a flurry of hooks.
Referee, Dave Parris, sensibly stepped in to call the fight off, as Mitchell was one punch from getting sparked. At 1.57 seconds into the third round Michael ‘The Warrior’ Katsidis had pulled off a sensational victory. Mitchell had been outmanoeuvred by Katsidis, whose superior footwork laid the foundations for the subsequent stoppage win. Mitchell could well have survived the third round if he had ‘got on his bike’ and tried to evade the Katsidis onslaught, but he was as he said in his interview with Sky TV afterwards he allowed himself to be lured onto Katsidis.
Promoter Frank Warren, who boldly matched Mitchell with the ultra-dangerous, Katsidis, for an Interim WBO Title, rather than a ‘legitimate’ full World Title [if such a thing actually exists these days!?] looked ash-faced at the conclusion of his fighter's crushing defeat. Warren will now have to go back to the drawing board in his search for his next world champion. The outdoor event itself can be viewed as a success in that it attracted a large crowd but it did not appear to recreate the same intensity as modern day outdoor classics such as Bruno-McCall or McGuigan-Pedrosa.
In the meantime, Warren’s former charge, Amir ‘King’ Khan made a successful and very impressive second defence of his World Title with an 11th round stoppage of Paulie Malignaggi in the magnificent fistic setting of the Madison Square Garden in New York [see Boxrec News Editor's, Ian McNeilly’s Ringside Report]. The Bolton World Champion looks to have improved immensely under the tutelage of world-class trainer Freddie Roach and has made a brilliant impression on his American debut.
Upton Park victor Katsidis, who spent three months training in Thailand away from his young family including his new born baby girl was magnanimous in victory as he spoke to Adam Smith from Sky Sports.
Katsidis said: “It would be an absolute dream if one day the people (British fans) would one day support me. There are twenty-odd thousand people here cheering and supporting the sport that I love and that means everything to me regardless of who they are cheering for. Thank you very much England – you have been great to me – thank you".
Katsidis will have made himself many more fans with his all-action style and humble and graceful post-fight conduct. A bright future awaits Katsidis. Mitchell, who is a classy operator, will have to pick himself up after suffering his first professional defeat. Meanwhile, King Khan moves on to bigger and better things.