Kevin ”The Hammer” Mitchell takes another step toward his goal of becoming a world champion when he faces Australian hard man Michael ”The Great” Katsidis for the WBO interim lightweight title before an estimated 30,000 fans at the home of Mitchell´s beloved West Ham United – Upton Park – this Saturday night.
The bill, entitled ”Hammer Time”, will be one of the biggest in UK history, and features 13 fights. Sky Sports 1 will begin broadcasting the action from 8pm.
Reigning WBO and WBA lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez will defend both belts against Juan Diaz on July 31st, and has stated he intends to seek a world title fight at junior welterweight next. If he does vacate the titles, the winner of Saturday night´s fight will be elevated to full WBO world champion status.
29 year old Queenslander Michael Katsidis (26-2, 21 ko´s) turned pro in December 2001 after compiling a 75-6 record as an amateur, and representing Australia in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
He was brought along steadily on a diet of Australian, African and Oriental opposition, and by the time he faced Graham Earl for the vacant WBO interim lightweight title at the Wembley Arena in February 2007, Katsidis had compiled an impressive record of 21-0 with 19 ko´s. It was also Katsidis´first bout outside his native shores.
The result was one of the most exciting fights ever seen in the UK, and also revealed the strengths and weaknesses of Katsidis as a fighter.
In a sensational pier-six brawl, Katsidis and Earl went toe-to-toe and traded bombs from the opening bell. Earl was knocked down twice in the first round, and again early in the second. When Katsidis tagged him yet again, Earl´s corner threw in the towel – only for referee Mickey Vann to throw it back out again!
Vann´s decision proved correct seconds later when Earl floored the incoming Katsidis with a heavy right hand. The two exchanged blows for the rest of what was British boxing´s ‘Round of the Year’.
The rest of the fight was more of the same – non-stop give and take action, Katsidis wide open and winging in shots – Earl countering – with the heavier punches coming from the Australian. By the fifth, Mickey Vann had seen enough and the fight was stopped in favour of Katsidis.
Although he had won convincingly and displayed vicious punching power, Katsidis had also shown a porous defence, taken an awful lot of punches, and finished the fight the more marked up of the two men.
Katsidis´ next fight was in July 2007 against 21 year old Czar Amonsot of the Philippines on the Bernard Hopkins v Winky Wright undercard, and he was forced to go to war once again.
He floored Amonsot in the 2nd and again in the 10th and landed the heavier punches throughout, but took an awful lot of punishment, finishing the fight with cuts under an over badly swollen eyes. Katsidis may have won the decision, but you would never have known by looking at him.
In March 2008 he met 36 year old former two-time world champion Joel Casamayor of Cuba. Despite his age, Casamayor was still a top ranked contender, and by far Katsidis´ biggest test as a pro so far.
The fight began disastrously for the Aussie as he was floored twice in the first round. But in typical Katsidis fashion, he came storming back, floored Casamayor in the sixth, and by the tenth was ahead on two scorecards.
Early in round ten Casamayor countered a Katsidis hayemaker with an inch perfect left hook that floored the Australian heavily. Although he beat the count, Katsidis was, to use American ring parlance – ”on queer street”, and when he offered no defence to Casamayor´s subsequent onslaught, the referee stopped the fight.
Katsidis´ first defeat was followed six months later by his second, when he lost a split decision to former IBF, WBA and WBO lightweight champion Juan Diaz. Again it was a savage fight and again Katsidis finished the bout with severe lacerations around his eyes.
Katsidis has since come back with three victories, all scored in 2009. He outpointed Argentinian Angel Ramirez, stopped 36 year old former WBC super featherweight and IBF lightweight champion Jesus Chavez, and last December outpointed solid fringe contender Vicente Escobedo over 12 rounds to regain the WBO interim title.
Katsidis is often likened to the late Arturo Gatti, mainly because he frequently finishes his fights looking more like the loser than the winner. Unlike Gatti, who loved to brawl but was also a fine boxer, Katsidis has no ‘Plan B’.
His fighting style is actually more reminiscent of another Australian, the original ”Thunder from Down Under”, three time world champion Jeff Fenech.
So how will Katsidis lack of defence hold up against a sharpshooter like Kevin Mitchell?
25 year old Mitchell (31-0, 23 ko´s) is rightly regarded as one of the brightest young prospects in Britain, alongside Kell Brook and Nathan Cleverly. Mitchell first came to prominence as an 18 year old when he won the 2003 ABA featherweight title.
Under the management of Frank Warren, he tuned pro in July of that year with a first round knockout of Stevie Quinn.
Mitchell was brought along steadily if unspectacular over the next few years, highlights being his 6th round stoppage of South African Harry Ramogoadi for the Commonwealth super featherweight title in March 2007, and his 9th round TKO over Carl Johanneson the following year for the British super featherweight crown.
In 2009 Mitchell made the decision to step up to lightweight, and after two easy wins, he climbed into the ring last December with the fearsome Colombian Breidis Prescott, the man who had shattered British boxing´s Golden Boy – Amir Khan´s perfect record in just 54 seconds.
There were many experts who feared for Mitchell´s safety, and he entered the ring a firm underdog against the Prescott, a man regarded as a lightweight version of Sonny Liston.
Mitchell proceeded to put on the performance of the year by a UK fighter, as he avoided Prescott´s howitzer shots, gained in confidence as the fight progressed, and finished the contest showboating for the crowd as he went on to win a one-sided unanimous decision.
Overnight, the kid from Dagenham had come of age.
In his last fight in February of this year, Mitchell looked like the finished article as he demolished experienced Colombian veteran Ignacio Mendoza in two electrifying rounds.
There is sometimes a point in a boxers career when he suddenly fully realizes just how good he is, and from that point on he fights at a completely different level than he did before.
For Mitchell, I believe the win over Prescott was just such an epiphany, and the knockout of Mendoza was the result. That night, he looked like the great Don Curry at his best – economical with his movement, devastating with his punching and ruthless with his finishing, not wasting a single shot.
If Mitchell brings the same mindset that he had against Mendoza into the ring with him against the big-hitting but wide-open Katsidis on Saturday night, there will be only one winner, it will be spectacular, and it might be surprisingly short.
Brave as Katsidis is, he is made for the ”The Hammer.”
Mitchell to win by TKO in three.
Big Fight Odds; Michael Katsidis 6/5, Kevin Mitchell 8/13 bet365