By Jake Donovan
Nearly two years after his disqualification win over Arthur Abraham in Stage Two of the Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic, super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell is finally ready to resume his career.
The 2004 Olympic bronze medalist is anxious for Friday evening to arrive, when he steps into the ring to face fellow Michigan native Daryl Cunningham. The bout serves as part of a Shobox-televised tripleheader, which airs live from the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon, California.
Dirrell (19-1, 13KO) was forced to sit out for more than a year while recovering from head injuries sustained in his March ’10 bout with Abraham. The neurological issues came about after Dirrell slipped to the canvas in the 11th round of their bout, and was subsequently clipped with a blatant cheap shot to his unprotected chin while down on the ground. A delayed reaction saw the American contender twitch uncontrollably before suffering a concussion.
The lingering effects forced him to pull out of his Stage Three match with former Olympic teammate Andre Ward, and withdraw from the Super Six tournament altogether last October. Doctors’ orders forced him to sit out for six months before being cleared to fight this past April.
Since then, Dirrell has kept busy in the gym while waiting for the right opportunity to come along. That moment comes this Friday.
“Mainly what kept me out was the injury,” Dirrell explained to participating members of a media conference call on Wednesday afternoon. “I was finally cleared – I’ve been cleared for about eight months now. But I was looking for a secure TV date and a lot of the dates were taken. Fortunately Gary Shaw got me on this show. It was half and half - half getting the TV date and half from the Arthur Abraham fight.”
Dirrell became the third fighter to drop out of the Super Six tournament, joining Mikkel Kessler on the injured list months after Jermain Taylor withdrew from the series and took an extended break after suffering four losses in his past five fights, including three brutal knockout losses.
Taylor also returns on the same show this Friday, facing Jessie Nicklow in a middleweight bout. His last ring performance also came against Abraham, though providing far more disastrous results as he was knocked in the closing seconds of the 12th and final round of the bout.
Dirrell exited the tournament on a win – in fact, the biggest win of his career, to date. However, the neurological issues suffered forced him to the sidelines for more than a year, and the lack of available TV dates atoning for the remainder of his 21-month exodus from the ring.
A blessing in disguise came in the form of the super middleweight contender being afforded the chance to work out severe ring rust, and also determine if he was in fact fully clear to fight. Temporary doubt surfaced when he initially resumed training, but has since transitioned to anxiousness.
“I’ve been fine, working out has been great and sparring has been great,” Dirrell insists. “The only problem I had was when first sparring with George Groves in Miami, just getting back used to it. I don’t know if it was lingering from the Arthur Abraham fight or just me getting back used to it, but he just gave me problems when I first started back.”
Camp eventually grew better, but the same couldn’t be said for his progress in securing a fight. Still, there was reason to remain optimistic.
“I felt good but unfortunately I couldn’t find a TV date. That took a turn for the worse. On the positive side, it kept me in great shape. I’ve been working my ass off since then.”
His televised slot on Friday night should reveal exactly what the 28-year old has left in the tank, and the impact that comes with being sidelined for 21 months during the heart of your prime.
What also remains a concern is how he’ll react the first time he’s clipped on the chin. While Cunningham is no knockout artist (10 KO’s in 26 fights), he’s no easy out and figures to make Dirrell work every step of the way.
Dirrell himself had doubts when he first resumed training, but with each session crept closer and closer to the mentality he carried prior to the Abraham fight.
“I thought about it in the beginning of my workout sessions but it slowly left my mind,” Dirrell states of whether or not past injuries will be on his mind once the bell rings. “When I was getting the work and sparring, it all just left my mind. I’m feeling really good on my comeback.
“My only concern is looking great for the fans. I’m not too concerned about the problems that persisted after the Arthur Abraham fight. “
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .