Mitchell Rates the Best He Fought- by Terry Pettifer

Your scribe was at his usual watering hole on a sweltering hot afternoon and had just downed a second glass of frosted lager when the restaurant’s regular group of beer & sports loving patrons joined me at the bar. The ‘crew’ as they’re fondly referred to by Promise Grill manager Lincoln, included the likes of Roger (a Manchester United fanatic), Stuart, Rod, Mike and James, all fiercely patriotic South Africans, whose only form of banter it seems revolves around betting how long it will take my English football side Liverpool F.C. to win the Premiership League Championship. Nevertheless a finer bunch of companions one couldn’t wish
to find. To top it all in walked former two time World Junior Lightweight champion, Brian Mitchell.

Roger it was who asked “Mitch” (as I call him) to name the best fighter he ever
fought during his 49-bout ring career that translated into 45 wins, 1 loss and 3
draws. “Tony Lopez, without a doubt” replied South Africa’s consensus choice a ‘Fighter of the Century’.

That Mitchell fought the Sacramentobased Lopez twice, qualified him to expound
in depth on the strengths of the man who’d been nicknamed “Tiger”. Remembering that their first meeting on March 15, 1991 in Sacramento, which
was in defence of Mitchell’s WBA junior lightweight crown, had ended in a highly
controversial draw, it figured that there would be a return, and two days short of
six months later, the chunky South African whipped the rugged American at
the same venue to claim Lopez’s IBF junior lightweight title.

Undefeated as a world champion (10 wins, 2 draws), Mitchell still regards Lopez, whose subsequently become a good friend of his, as the best all-around fighter he ever exchanged punches with, and remains remarkably candid regarding his other championship opponents. “Tony was an excellent body puncher, so I knew I had to give him angles in order to prevent him from establishing a rhythm. I thought I’d done enough in our first fight to nick the verdict, but when the decision was given as a draw, all I thought about was meeting him in a rematch and most happily that contest went according to my expectations”. Indeed, so dominant was South Africa’s inimitable “Road Warrior” the second time around that Lopez later sportingly admitted; “Tonight I went back to school”.

Insofar as his local opponents were concerned, Mitchell never had a tougher assignment than on the evening he outpointed Aladin Stevens at Sun City over
8-rounds. “He was tough and cagey and being a southpaw (he) gave me a good
fight” admitted Mitchell. Naturally Brian dislikes talking about his tragic fight with
the ill-fated Jacob Morake (Morake collapsed after being knocked out and died
shortly afterwards), who incidentally got the judges’ nod in the first of their four
encounters.

“Jacob was a fleet-footed boxer with a fine left jab and the memory of that fatal night at Sun City will remain with me for as long as I live” he recalls.

By then the “crew’ were in full throttle in terms of their beer intake and even the
normally quiet Mike was framing questions. Mitchell’s dirtiest opponent?

“That had to be Jackie Beard” answered Brian. “He hit me a number of times with his head during our championship fight in Crotone, Italy, badly cutting my eyes and I had to pull out all the stops in order to grind him down in the ninth round. By then though I had the guy’s number and he knew it”.

In a return engagement with Beard in Grosseto, Italy on March 12, 1990,
Mitchell fashioned an impressive 12-round points victory.

Mitchell has no reservations in ranking Joe Rivera as the hardest hitter he ever
faced. “He dumped me on my backside in two different fights and was a really
awesome left hooker” laughed Brian as he sipped on a cream soda. For the
record the first Mitchell/Rivera bout (which was Brian’s first defence of the
WBA junior lightweight title) was declared a draw after 15 rounds in San Juan,
Puerto Rico, before the South African outpointed Rivera just over a year later over
12-rounds in Madrid, Spain.

So who were the most influential personalities in Brian’s career? “My trainer
Harold Volbrecht (Brian started his career under the guidance of Willie Toweel) and
promoter Rodney Berman. Without either of them I doubt whether I would have
been quite as successful as I was”.

And on that humble note, we all said “Cheers!”.