WASHINGTON — Knee injuries in college destroyed Seth Mitchell's dream of National Football League stardom, but the unbeaten American boxer has a new quest -- becoming the next great US heavyweight world champion.
"I feel it's my time now," Mitchell said. "I believe I have the tools to become heavyweight champ of the world. If I get my opportunity, I believe I have the capability to get the job done."
Mitchell, 23-0 with one drawn and 17 knockouts, will face Uzbek Timur Ibragimov, 30-3 with one drawn and 16 knockouts, in an undercard fight Saturday before the Amir Khan-Lamont Peterson light-welterweight world title bout.
Not since Hasim Rahman's reign ended in 2006 has an American owned one of the three major heavyweight crowns, a drought of epic proportions given the US domination of the division in the 20th Century.
From James Jeffries, Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey of the early 1900s through Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson, American heavyweights ruled with iron fists.
Britain's Lennox Lewis made his mark by beating Evander Holyfield to become the undisputed world heavyweight champion in 1999, but he retired in 2004 and Ukrainian brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have dominated the division the past decade.
Wladimir Klitschko, 56-3 with 49 knockouts, owns the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association titles while Vitali, 43-2, holds the World Boxing Council crown. They have vowed never to fight each other.
"They are good at what they do. They fight well and they dominate the sport," Mitchell said. "To fight them you have to have an aggressive style. You have to have power and speed. I have those attributes.
"Everybody wants somebody to relate to. Everybody wants an American heavyweight. If the Klitschkos were Americans, everybody would be excited about the Klitschkos."
Ibragimov, a cousin of former World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Sultan Ibragimov, questions that notion, saying the Klitschkos' use their size and reach advantages to overwhelm foes but tend to have boring fights.
"The Klitschkos are not entertaining fighters but they do the job and do it very well," Ibragimov said. "People love entertainment. That's why they say there's nothing in heavyweights.
"When Tyson or Holyfield stepped in the ring, they started fighting the first second of the fight. The Klitschkos have long reach. They can stay on defense. They can stay 20 rounds on defense.
"It's really difficult. It's not to easy to come close to these guys."
Mitchell wants his chance to topple the Klitschkos and help revive the division that once galvanized the attention of the world.
"I want to be in this position," he said. "If the stakes are high you are going in the right direction. I want to win but at the same time I have responsibilities to look good while doing so. This is entertainment.
"It's my time now. I just have to go out there and prove it."
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