By Jake Donovan
Andre Dirrell’s Friday morning began just like everyone else – unsure of the decision that would be made by unbeaten super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute for his next fight.
By the time Bute’s conference call was over, the news was everywhere – Bute wants Froch, with or without Showtime’s involvement. Showtime – according to Interbox president Jean Bedard (Bute’s promoter) – was more interested in matching Bute with Dirrell in what would serve as the last fight of a three-bout contract between the American network and Romanian fighter.
“I got a call from my uncle that my name was all over the internet,” Dirrell revealed in how day began to shape up shortly after being mentioned on every major boxing website.
As Friday transitioned from afternoon to evening, the once-beaten super middleweight contender kept his name in headlines, but for entirely different reasons.
In a story first broken by RingTV.com’s Lem Satterfield, Dirrell and his uncle Leon Lawson Jr. announced their defection from advisor Al Haymon and de facto promoter Gary Shaw (with whom Dirrell never had a formal contract). It was revealed by fighter and uncle/trainer that it was in their best interests to move in a different direction, considering the standing they believe Dirrell to have in today’s boxing market.
“We’re no longer Al Haymon and Gary Shaw; we’re doing our thing under Team Dirrell Promotions,” Dirrell (20-1, 14KO) said. “We have the clout to be up there with Andre Ward and Lucian Bute, as our name has come up for both fighters. Al did his job and was a great advisor. But we feel we can reach our full potential by going on our own and taking care of business.”
The first step towards that was returning to the ring, which Dirrell did last month following a 21-month hiatus stemming from injuries suffered in his March ’10 Super Six Stage Two showdown with then-unbeaten Arthur Abraham.
Dirrell scored a mid-rounds knockdown and was well on his way to a landslide decision before slipping and falling midway through the 11th round. Abraham couldn’t resist taking a swing at an open target – even one already on a knee on the canvas – resulting in an instant disqualification and the first loss of his career.
Abraham would go on to lose twice more, coming against Super Six finalists Froch and Ward. Dirrell wouldn’t fight again, as he was medically forced to withdraw from the tournament after not being able to fulfill obligations for a Stage Three showdown with Ward, his 2004 U.S. Olympic teammate.
The anticipated ring return for the Flint native came last December in a special edition of Shobox. Paired up with fellow Super Six dropout Jermain Taylor, Dirrell looked sharp in easily dispatching Daryl Cunningham inside of two rounds.
It wasn’t exactly a time-capsule moment, but enough to give the contender a taste of what he so sorely missed for nearly two years.
“It felt really good,” Dirrell said of his ring return. “I was emotional walking into the ring. I felt the intensity from the crowd and felt the hype. I was levitating to the ring. It was such a long time, and I don’t want to ever get back off that road. It wasn’t an A+ opponent. He wasn’t supposed to be in there with me and I made sure of that. It is what it is.”
What it was, was a mismatch, but enough to show that Dirrell hadn’t lost a beat. Prior to the fight, he promised during a media conference call that he’d be in the title mix in 2012. While Showtime refuses to go on record on the subject while negotiations are ongoing, the suggestion that Dirrell is a preference for Bute’s feature let the American fighter know that he still commands respect.
From there came the decision to give it a try on his own, rather than having others speak on his behalf. Even if among those others is one in particular who holds as much weight as any other powerbroker in this industry.
“I have nothing but respect for Al Haymon and his team, and the job they did with my career,” Dirrell admits. “But we’ve reached a point in my career where I’d like for my team – my family, my unit – to speak on my behalf. No middleman, just dealing straight with the man and seeing what comes of it.”
At the top of the list for Team Dirrell is a meeting with new Showtime exec Stephen Espinoza. The first order of business on the docket is doing everything he can to continue to push for a showdown with Bute, and preferably on this side of the border despite his rival’s huge following in Canada.
Even though Showtime has its own preference for Bute’s next televised fight, there’s no guarantee that this is the one that materializes. With that in mind, Dirrell is already prepared to think about Plan B – and perhaps beyond – as he has no intention of sitting on the sideline any longer than necessary after having fought just once in nearly two years.
“We have to put together the pieces of the puzzle. I was ready to go back to camp and return to the ring in March or April. If the right opportunity pops up, we will take it. If I don’t get Bute next, then the next time after that. In the meantime, we’ll check out what else makes sense. Showtime has done an amazing job in keeping my career going, so we sit with them and see what we can do next.”
Dirrell’s motives for wanting Bute run deeper than just the title shot and payday.
While several of the best super middleweights in the world were facing each other round-robin style, Bute was on the outside looking in, left with the golden opportunity of taking on all other comers.
Instead, the undefeated Romanian fought against a series of made-to-order opposition, looking impressive but not necessarily enhancing his credentials any.
Short of facing Ward – the Super Six winner and the reason Showtime signed Bute to a three-fight deal last year – Dirrell doesn’t see more befitting available competition out there than himself for the long reigning titlist.
“I don’t take nothing away from where Bute is at,” Dirrell insists. “He’s a great fighter and has one of the sweetest uppercuts you will see in the game today, but let’s see how it all looks against young, top notch opposition.
“Bute has to prove himself one way or another. He’s on that pedestal. So too is Ward and Froch, for what they did in the Super Six. But Andre is injured, so he’s out. Froch is coming off that bad loss to Ward, and really the third time he was exposed for what he is – Kessler took him after losing to Andre, and everyone knows I beat him but just didn’t get that decision.”
The fight to which Dirrell refers was the very first of the Super Six tournament. Dirrell was an unbeaten but still unproven contender when he traveled to England to face Froch in his backyard. The following 12 rounds saw a match between boxer and brawler, coming down to style preference. The verdict was split, with Froch taking a narrow, disputed decision for Dirrell’s only loss to date.
Should Bute get his way and land his own date with Froch (his handlers are targeting April 14), Dirrell plans to move on to the next best opponent, while keeping an eye on that winner for his next date.
“The thing about it is there are so many options out there, and my team just wants to make sure our preferences are heard directly. We want the best opportunity out there. If it’s not Bute, then there’s Mikkel Kessler, who’s making all sorts of noise now that he’s back. There’s Robert Steiglitz, the WBO champion. And of course whenever Andre Ward’s hand is better and he returns.
“Right now, I say anyone but Abraham is in the mix. He did what he did then try to tell everyone I was acting in our fight. Nothing came of his career after that. But you know what? If he comes back and gets a title, I have no problem knocking on his door again too. Whoever is in my way in pursuing greatness, that’s who I’m going after and doing it my way.”
Regardless of who is next, Bute remains in his sights – for as long as he’s relevant.
“Bute will hear my voice. It’s Team Dirrell Promotions time. 2012 will be my year. I have full control of my career, full confidence in my team and a clear vision. No man can stop a determined soul. If I don’t get Bute next, I’ll get him down the line. If he loses, I’ll go after the guy that beat him.
“To be honest, if Bute fights Froch instead of me, I’d straight up root for Froch to win. Then we can fight again because even though Froch is coming off them losses, he’ll have proven himself in beating Bute and I know he’ll be man enough to give me that rematch.”
In the end, what Dirrell is ultimately after is the best available competition, and that he has full say in when and where those events take place. While appreciative of those who have brought him to this point, he is fully confident that he and his team can carry the load from here as he seeks to fulfill the goas he set for himself when turning pro seven years ago.
“I can’t wait to sit down with Showtime and discuss my future. I want big fights to happen now, and I want them to keep coming until there is nothing left to be had. I’m going to stamp my name. I want great wins over great fighters on my resume by the time I’m ready to push the retire button.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]