When welterweight Sharmba Mitchell turned pro, Ronald Reagan was still in office—the 35-year-old has been paying the bills with his fists for half his life. Some may remember him for his last two losses, TKO 3 to Kostya Tszyu in 2004 and TKO 6 to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last November. Those losses indicated he’s no longer competitive with the pound-for-pound elite. But being a notch below, in the twilight of his 57-5 career, is nothing to scoff at.
Before retiring, Mitchell’s goals are to have another world title (he’s held two at junior welterweight) and to see 60 wins. The former is unlikely, the latter can be arranged…and against formidable opposition. The Washington, D.C native’s clear-cut decision over Jose Luis Cruz on ESPN2’s Wednesday Night Fights bears this out. Scores for the 10-rounder were 97-93 twice and 96-94.
Under a merciless sun in Cathedral City, CA, a ring was set up in a baseball stadium (filled with more paper people than animate ones). The southpaw Mitchell came out in the first displaying the speed and low center of gravity of base stealer Ricky Henderson. Darting in and out, he flicked jabs at the Mexican’s motionless mug. Sometimes he threw a lead left, ducked under a sloppy right hook, and turned his man so he was out of punching position. He’d shoeshine in a blur of leather, and then turn his man again. If he’s lost any speed, he’s still got the edge on anybody not named “Pretty Boy.”
Slow and unathletic with no finesse, Cruz proved a quick study. The second round was his best. He pinned Mitchell on the ropes and mauled his midsection. Although he has long arms and a four-inch advantage in height, Cruz’s fight was on the inside. Considering 28 of his 33 wins have come by knockout, it was unwise for Mitchell to play peek-a-boo on the ropes.
But midway through the third Cruz looked spent. He stopped moving his hands on the inside, and when he did, his shots lacked vigor. Cruz weighed in at 144.5 (to Mitchell’s 146.5), his lightest in almost nine years. Commentator Teddy Atlas suggested that this was an ill-advised instance of over-training. Having weighed in as much as 158, he stole from himself the one thing he had over Mitchell: size…and the good punch he might’ve possessed.
As Mitchell sensed Cruz’s flagging energy, he began standing in front of him and infight. Technically, he gave up his fight plan, but it only served to frustrate Cruz even more. Mitchell was in complete control over the second half of the fight. Only Cruz’s big heart allowed him to summon the occasional volley of inexact punches. It was never enough to turn the tide. Mitchell never hurt Cruz but could box him blindfolded. He cruised through the tenth without a stumble.
This was an impressive win for the talented and proud veteran. Boxing hasn’t seen the last of him.
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In the 8-round co-feature, junior welterweight Ray Narh took a big step up against veteran Steve Quinonez, and won in style. Now 17-1, the Ghanaian Narh has feasted on soft touches. The one time he was matched tough, against Almazbek Raimkulov, he was starched in one round.
At 6 feet, Narh has terrific height and is skilled enough that he says he loves fighting southpaws. (But, he calls himself “Sugar” Ray, so maybe we shouldn’t take him at his word just yet.) Quinonez fit the bill. Plus, the Palm Springs resident was days from being 35, gave up six inches in height, and was coming off a taxing 12-round loss to Stevie Johnston.
Quinonez is no pushover, though. Now 31-12, he’s been a game loser against mainly world champions like Jose Luis Castillo, Diego Corrales and Stevie Forbes. He also owns victories over Lovemore N’Dou and Juan Valenzuela.
Narh was busy in the first, throwing 91 punches, but only connecting on 28. Quinonez, who pours concrete as his day job, laid down a foundation by attacking his foe’s slender midsection.
In the second, Narh showed a tendency to give up his height and fall in; he let his feet slide forward, rather than planting himself when he got off. But he painted Quinonez’s face with his jab and threw well-timed straight rights and right uppercuts that found their mark.
In the last half of the third, Quinonez was getting to the body—his forte. His shots were aimed at the solar plexus, which, when on the money, will knock the wind out of you. When he was inside, however, he let Narh tie him up. Narh used his feet in the fourth and pot-shotted from a distance.
The turning point of the bout occurred in the sixth. Quinonez, who only knows how to enter “through the front door,” in Teddy Atlas’ words, paid a dear price for his predictable charges inside. To protect his inflamed face, he began working behind a high guard, but with no jab to clear the way. It seemed a desperate measure, a last resort. Blinded, he was helpless against Narh, who not only kept his distance but also took clever steps to the side before throwing uppercuts and lead rights. In the seventh, he caught Quinonez with a short right that dropped him. The ref dispensed an 8-count.
Before the fight, Quinonez confessed a loss essentially spelled the end of his career. Going into the tenth, he knew he needed a knockout. He summoned his resolve and almost got his wish, connecting flush with a gorgeous overhand left to Narh’s jaw. But it must’ve just missed the sweet spot. Narh weathered the blow and finished the round in good form.
Off TV Results:
In a 6-rounder, Lorenzo Reynolds won a unanimous decision over Arthur Brambila.
Mauricio Borquez took a points decision over Hector Rivera in a four-rounder.
Richard Paige scored a third-round TKO over William Harmon.