Anthony Dirrell’s hopes of chasing a third title reign hit a speed bump.
The former two-time WBC super middleweight titlist struggled to turn away the challenge of Kyrone Davis in their Fox-televised main event Saturday evening at Shrine Auditorium & Expo in Los Angeles. The two fought to a 12-round split decision draw in their sanctioned title eliminator.
Davis won by score of 115-113 on the card of Dr. Lou Moret, while Dirrell won by the same tally on the card of Pat Russell. Judge Zachary Young scored the contest 114-114, leaving the main event fighters fit to be tied.
Dirrell hadn’t fought since watching his second title reign coming to a close in a 9th round stoppage at the hands of David Benavidez (23-0, 20KOs) in Sept. 2019. As expected, the 36-year old from Flint, Michigan put his natural size advantage to good use versus Davis, who moved up from middleweight to accept the challenge.
Davis landed on the tail end of a combination midway through round one, while Dirrell was poised as he cut off the ring in hopes of pinning down his mobile foe. Dirrell landed a straight left to the body and a clean right hand upstairs, opening up Davis’ defense to follow with a left hook.
Dirrell worked the jab to open round two while Davis continued to bounce on his toes, never setting his feet long enough to land anything of substance. Dirrell connected with a right hand, forcing Davis back before returning to his long jab.
Davis landed a straight right hand early in round three, first significant power punch of the fight which caught the attention of Dirrell. A combination from the Wilmington, Delaware product found its mark later in the round, with Davis slipping a Dirrell counter and working his jab.
Dirrell has suffered fight-ending cuts in back-to-back fights, though it was Davis who was left with a nick over his left eye following a clash of heads in round four. The wound didn’t prove to be a factor, as Davis continued to box while enjoying brief success to the body and hooking off the jab upstairs. Dirrell ended the round with a counter left hook.
Both boxers had their say in a fast-paced round five. Davis was less mobile, putting in work at close quarters and closing the round with a left hook. Dirrell scored with straight right hands but was forced to work outside of his comfort zone against an increasingly active foe 10 years his junior and not showing signs of slowing down.
Things remained competitive through six rounds, with Davis also showcasing a world class chin in stepping up in competition. Dirrell landed a counter right hand which Davis took clean, coming right back with a left hook.
Dirrell scored with a left hook to the body in round seven, countered with a right hand for Davis who followed with a left hook to the chin. A two-way exchange closed out the frame, with Davis falling just short with a right hand.
Davis was quicker to the draw to start round eight, landing in combination and sliding out of harm’s way. Dirrell righted the shape later in the frame, landing on the inside and also with a stiff left hand along the ropes which snapped back Davis’ head.
Dirrell landed the cleaner, harder shots in rounds nine and ten though Davis never wilted. A combination by Davis missed the mark as Dirrell employed slick head movement. Dirrell connected with a right hand and left hook at close quarters, though dropped his right hand just enough to get clipped with a counter left hook.
The championship rounds saw Dirrell fight through reddening around his right eye, though never bothered by the minor injury. The former titlist measured up Davis, connecting with straight shots while Davis appeared to be the busier fighter.
Davis looked to pick up the pace in the 12th and final round but failed to land the type of game-changing shot he needed to prevail. Dirrell stood at center ring, cognizant of the incoming and confident that the victory was in the bag.
It turned out to be a miscalculation, leaving Dirrell at 34-2-2 (24KOs) and without the guarantee of advancing to one more title shot.
Davis offered a credible account of himself as his record moves to 15-2-1 (6KOs).
From a political perspective, the feat leaves Dirrell out of the mix to challenge the winner of the March 13 Showtime headliner between David Benavidez and Ronald Ellis. That path was never of particular interest to the former two-time champ anyway; as he believes he deserves to go straight to another title shot.
Time will tell how that plays out, though Saturday’s outcome didn’t necessarily convince the masses that a third title reign is in Dirrell’s future.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox