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MITCHELL IS HEALTHY FOR REMATCH.

Byline: ROBERT MORALES Boxing

Seventy-two hours before the biggest fight of his life - against Kostya Tszyu on Feb. 3, 2001 - Sharmba Mitchell had a painful decision to make: Should he go on with the fight, knowing how bad off his left knee was?

``It was just three days before the fight, my whole leg, my knee, everything started feeling numb,'' said Mitchell, who will fight Tszyu in a rematch Nov. 6 in Phoenix. Tszyu's International Boxing Federation junior welterweight title is on the line. Showtime will televise the fight.

``I couldn't feel anything,'' Mitchell said. ``We thought about cancelling, but when you're in a big fight like that, so much money is on the line, TV, all the repercussions, it is bad publicity.''

Mitchell was no slouch. He was attempting to make the fifth defense of his World Boxing Association belt while Tszyu's World Boxing Council title was on the line. But Mitchell also was fighting with a left knee that had already been through surgery to repair its anterior cruciate ligament.

``Boxing is the type of sport anything can happen,'' Mitchell said Tuesday in an interview with the Daily News. ``One punch can turn a table. I figured, 'I'm a warrior and I'm going to go in there and take my chances.'

``By taking my chances, I put up a fight that no one thought I would.''

Mitchell said Tszyu knew that his knee was bad, so the Australian purposely engaged Mitchell in wrestling tactics that resulted in the fighters hitting the deck more than once.

A point was deducted from Tszyu for pushing, but it appeared both fighters were equally participating in the rough-housing.

Either way, Mitchell's knee had had it, and he could not answer the bell for the eighth round, Tszyu getting credit for a seventh-round technical knockout. Tszyu was winning by three points on one scorecard and by four on another. The third scorecard was even.

``That was definitely one of his strategies, to make sure and put as much pressure on my knee as possible,'' Mitchell said. ``I can't fault him. I probably would have done the same thing.

``I will probably do some things to see if his shoulder is repaired.''

Tszyu, in a telephone conversation Sunday with the Daily News, objected to Mitchell's claim.

``It wasn't that way,'' Tszyu said. ``The wrestling stuff - he was the guy holding me, and for me to get rid of his hold, I needed to be more aggressive. He would hold me, and I would throw him away to protect myself.''

Tszyu is coming off left-shoulder surgery and will not have fought in nearly 22 months when he and Mitchell square off.

Mitchell eventually had more surgery on the knee, but this time it was done arthroscopically, which isn't as invasive as his previous surgery. Mitchell has gone 8-0 since the Tszyu fight and already has fought three times this year.

Tszyu has fought only four times since his fight with Mitchell, more than three years, eight months ago.

Tszyu's last fight was a sixth-round technical knockout of Jesse James Leija on Jan. 19, 2003.

That said, Mitchell said he is somewhat astonished Tszyu did not take a tuneup fight. But he understood where Tszyu was coming from when he agreed to the rematch without one.

``Yeah, I'm very surprised,'' Mitchell said, ``but I guess that goes to show what kind of champion we are dealing with. He feels that 'I'm the best in the world, why not take a chance?' ''

Mitchell said he isn't sure just how much of an advantage he has going into the rematch. Just because Tszyu has not had a real fight in nearly two years doesn't mean he is going to be soft. Before he went on the disabled list, Tszyu was high on everyone's top-10 pound-for-pound list, and he still appears on many, the long layoff notwithstanding.

``I think to the media it is a big advantage,'' Mitchell said. ``But to me, I don't think it is a big advantage. Look at Sugar Ray Leonard when he fought (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler. After that long layoff, he came out and looked spectacular against Hagler.

``I have to prepare for Tszyu like he has just fought eight times, like I have just fought eight times.''

Leonard in 1987 came out of a two-year, 11-month retirement to earn a controversial split-decision victory over Hagler to win the WBC middleweight title.

Another example is Felix Trinidad Jr., who Oct. 2 came out of a two- year, five-month retirement to knock out tough Ricardo Mayorga in the eighth round.

Mitchell, 34, of Washington, is 55-3 with 30 knockouts. Tszyu, 35, originally from Russia, is 30-1 with 24 knockouts.

--Not much strategy needed: Mitchell said there isn't a whole lot to figure out in this rematch. In his mind, all he has to do is be himself, and he wins.

``It is going to take the heart of a warrior, and my skills,'' he said. ``Just put them together, and I can beat anybody. The only way I can lose is if I beat myself, and I am not going to beat myself.''

Mitchell, over the past 10 years, has lost only once. The 5-foot-7 southpaw believes he will continue his winning ways in this long-awaited return fight. So his dreams tell him.

``Yeah, I have dreams,'' he said. ``I want this so bad, and when I want it that bad, I don't think it can be taken away from me.''

--Will anyone care?: Mitchell said he isn't crazy about the lack of love shown to professional fighters in the D.C. area. He believes that because there is always so much happening there, boxers are simply overlooked.

``Washington, D.C., is so big on a lot of things,'' he said. ``You got politics; the world is run in Washington, D.C. And you have the Redskins, the Wizards and the Mystics, and the soccer team (D.C. United), and they aren't doing anything.

``And you have this one guy, doing a man's sport. I'm not a troublemaker, one that has been locked up. I do things with kids.

``The media in Washington, D.C., they want to put the Redskins and Joe Gibbs and things like that on the front page. I'm a world champion, born and raised in Washington, D.C. My picture should be in color, not black and white.''

--St. John wins: Mia St. John of Calabasas on Saturday improved to 36-5-2 with a four-round unanimous decision over Janae Archuleta of Denver in Maywood.

St. John, 37, won the super featherweight fight by three scores of 40-36. Archuleta is 4-9-1.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Sharmba Mitchell believes the only way he'll lose to Kostya Tszyu is ``if I beat myself, and I'm not going to beat myself.''

Roy Dabner/Associated Press

Box:

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 25, 2004
Words:1144
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