By Jake Donovan
One of the hardest decisions Andre Dirrell was forced to make in his pro career was acting upon medical advice to withdraw from a scheduled fight with Andre Ward and drop out of the Super Six World Boxing Classic after just two fights.
His fate was sealed the moment he was concussed and left to twitch and convulse in pain after being blindsided by Arthur Abraham in their March ’10 bout. Dirrell was winning the bout handily – including a 4th round knockdown – when he slipped and fell to the canvas in the 11th round. Abraham was desperate to land a punch at some point in the fight, finally doing so while his opponent was on the ground and his chin unprotected.
The Armenian was disqualified on the spot, enduring the first loss of his career. Sadly, Dirrell wasn’t in the proper state of mind to celebrate what rates for the moment as a career-defining win. In fact, he was so out of it that he began sobbing once he regained full consciousness, believing that he had suffered a knockout loss.
What he lost instead, was 21 months of his prime. That’s how long he will have been on the sidelines by the time he enters the ring this Friday when he faces Darryl Cunningham in their Showtime-televised main event, live from Morongo Resort Casino & Spa in Cabazon, California.
While out of the ring, Dirrell was limited to the role of spectator while his Super Six peers continued onward. The tournament concluded two weeks ago, with close friend and 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing teammate Ward being crowned the winner. Ward did so by topping Carl Froch, whom defeated Dirrell in their Stage One matchup more than two years ago for the Michigan native’s lone career loss to date.
Dirrell was genuinely pleased to watch Ward run the tables, and gives full credit to his friend as well as Froch for making it to the finals.
“I watched all of it and was excited for everyone,” Dirrell (19-1, 13KO) reveals of how he spent his downtime. “Froch has bettered himself tremendously since he fought me, and Ward definitely improved and looked awesome. He pretty much pitched a shutout every time he fought. He ain’t lose many rounds leading up to that championship fight with Froch.”
What separated the two, Dirrell believed, was the class Ward carried, in addition to his superior skillset.
“I was excited for every fighter. Froch did get on my nerves quite a bit,” Dirrell states. “After Andre got cut, (Froch) was talking about how classless it was. It was degrading. His attitude got to me a little bit. I was glad that Andre Ward beat him.”
Dirrell was present in Atlantic City for the Super Six finals, seated at ringside. While watching the finals and also the Stage Three and semfinal matchups before that, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist couldn’t help but wonder how things would’ve played out had he remained in the tournament.
“For the most part it was stressful,” Direll admits. “I would watch some fights and would be excited, but then it would be 12AM and I’d be ready for the gym. A lot of the times I was stressing out; I found myself in tears at times just thinking about it. It’s stressful when you know you’re in your prime and the fans got you on that pedestal. You know what can do. I was stressing for the most part.”
What he gained from his time spent in the tournament was the ability to prove that he belongs at the top level. His points loss to Froch was razor thin and came on the road, and his win over Abraham was a whitewash leading up to the fight ending sequence.
It was good enough to regard him as one of the top super middleweights in the world; the forced exit, however, denied him the opportunity to offer further confirmation than that.
“I won’t say it should’ve been me in that spot. It was that it could have been me in that spot that bothered me. But I’m not gonna sit here and say that should’ve been me and that I regret what happened, because everything happens for a reason and my comeback will prove that.
“I feel like it could have been me, but I’m not dwelling on the past.”
Instead, the focus is now on the future, which begins with his comeback fight versus Cunningham, a 37-year old southpaw who – like Dirrell – hails from Michigan. A win on Friday clears the path for Dirrell to reclaim past glory. How he reaches that point is less important than that he remains in position to have a fighting chance.
"I’m glad the tournament is over. I’m glad everyone is open for business and that the belts are open for business. I want to go into 2012 with a bang and hope there are no more mishaps.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .