By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The late, great Emanuel Steward would have been so proud.
Heavyweight Johnathon Banks, whom Steward took under his wing when Banks was 15 and who was grooming him as an assistant trainer before Steward died, scored a major upset by knocking out Seth Mitchell in the second round on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall on the Antonio DeMarco-Adrien Broner undercard.
Banks didn’t just win. He won emphatically against Mitchell, regarded by many as boxing‘s top American heavyweight prospect.
Rafael’s Boxing Blog
Get the latest scoop and analysis on the world of boxing from ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael in his blog.
Banks (29-1-1, 19 KOs), 30, of Detroit, destroyed Mitchell. Although Banks, a former cruiserweight who is now 9-0-1 at heavyweight, was outweighed by 24 pounds, he tore Mitchell up in the second round.
He dropped Mitchell three times in shocking fashion. The first knockdown came after a left uppercut and a right hand. Mitchell, whose chin has been questioned before, was in trouble.
Mitchell continued, but Banks dropped him again with a clean right hand and Mitchell’s legs were gone. When Mitchell went down for the third time, referee Eddie Cotton stopped it at 2 minutes, 37 seconds.
“He never saw my left,” Banks said. “He didn’t know what to do when he got hurt. He got hurt immediately, and he was not experienced enough to grab and hold me and save himself.”
Banks’ story certainly is a heartwarming one. He was fighting with a heavy heart, just four days after the memorial service for Steward, his mentor and father figure who died late last month, and a week after training heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko to his lopsided decision win against Mariusz Wach in Germany.
Steward’s memorial service was delayed in part to allow Banks, who once lived with Steward, and Klitschko time to get to Detroit following last week’s fight.
Steward had trained Klitschko since 2004, and Banks had been in the camps with him them each time. When Steward died, Klitschko asked Banks to take over his corner and train him to his lopsided decision win against Wach.
While training Klitschko, Banks was also training with his own trainer, Steward’s nephew Javon “Sugar” Hill.
Banks was putting in four training sessions a day — two with Hill to prepare for the fight and two more training Klitschko. The hard work paid off as Mitchell, 30, of Brandywine, Md., a former Michigan State linebacker, couldn’t stand up to the smaller man.
“This is dedicated to Emanuel,” an emotional Banks said after the fight. “I wasn’t thinking of myself as an opponent, and I was very motivated for this fight in light of everything that happened with Emanuel and then with Wladimir’s fight last week. Boxing has been my life, and this is a continuation of what I do.”
Mitchell (25-1-1, 19 KOs) had designs on challenging Klitschko for the title, perhaps as soon as late 2013. That’s down the drain after this massive setback.
Klitschko, too, had his eyes on Mitchell as a challenger because he has wanted an American opponent so it would make sense to defend the title in the U.S. again. But if those plans had to be scuttled, at least it was his trainer who did the job.
Mitchell — who in his most recent fight, on April 28 at Boardwalk Hall, was badly rocked in the first round before rallying to knock out Chazz Witherspoon in the third round — was stunned by Saturday’s outcome.
“I could have gotten through the round, but the ref did what he had to do,” Mitchell said. “I’m good. I feel OK. He just caught me with a good shot. He dazed me, and I’m really upset. He’s a counterpuncher. I threw a shot that was out of reach and he caught me. But I’ll bounce back.
“It won’t spoil my dreams. It might set me back a little. Don’t be sorry for me. Be sorry for my next opponent.”