By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Jose Uzcategui finished Andre Dirrell the right way following eight rounds this time.
The hard-hitting Venezuelan became the first fighter to stop Dirrell by scoring a technical knockout of the skillful southpaw after the eighth round of their rematch Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Uzcategui captured the IBF interim super middleweight title Dirrell won when Uzcategui got disqualified for hitting Dirrell after the bell to end the eighth round in their first fight nine months ago.
Uzcategui (27-2, 23 KOs) began hurting Dirrell with a body shot in the third round. The rugged Uzcategui battered and bloodied him during the remaining rounds, until Dirrell’s cut man, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, instructed a New York State Athletic Commission official to tell referee Ricky Gonzalez to stop the bout before the ninth round started.
Dirrell pleaded with Duran to allow him to continue. Duran, concerned for Dirrell’s health, still stopped the fight.
“I was a little surprised they stopped it in the eighth,” Uzcategui said. “I had said it would be the third round that I would knock him out. It took a little longer, but it finally came. …. I came here to pressure him. It was either get knocked out or knock him out. I knocked him out.”
The 34-year-old Dirrell (26-3, 16 KOs), a former Olympian from Flint, Michigan, fought for the first time with new trainer Virgil Hunter in his corner. Hunter is best known for his work with Andre Ward, who was Dirrell’s Olympic teammate in 2004.
The new voice in his corner didn’t appear to help Dirrell, who told BoxingScene.com on Thursday that he contemplated retirement before Ward suggested having Hunter train him. Dirrell’s replaced his uncle, Leon Lawson Jr., as his trainer because Lawson assaulted Uzcategui in the ring after their first fight.
Before Saturday night, Dirrell had lost only two title bouts by decision to former world champions. Carl Froch beat him by split decision in October 2009 and James DeGale defeated Dirrell by unanimous decision in May 2015.
An older, slower Dirrell had more difficulty dealing with Uzcategui, who at 27 is seven years younger than him.
“I’ve been in there with long fighters before, but he was especially long,” Dirrell said. “I think I was a little heavier than I wanted to be tonight, but that’s no excuse. Uzcategui did a great job.”
Seemingly realizing Dirrell didn’t have much left, Uzcategui attacked Dirrell to start the eighth round Saturday night, hammering him to the head and body. Dirrell tried to move away from him, but Uzcategui stalked him and continued landing hard shots.
Uzcategui drilled Dirrell with a straight right hand to the head just before the eighth round ended. Dirrell acknowledged that hard shot and a respectful Uzcategui tapped Dirrell on top of his head as Dirrell began walking back to his corner.
Earlier in the eighth, Dirrell tried to fight back and landed a solid left hand that Uzcategui took well.
“We knew we needed a knockout,” Dirrell said. “The way it was going, I needed to at least pick it up. I felt a little sluggish and he hit all the right shots. None of them really hurt, but he hit me where he was supposed to.”
Gonzalez warned Dirrell for hitting Uzcategui low during the seventh round.
Dirrell kept throwing punches after getting hurt with a body shot late in the third round, but Uzcategui was very accurate with his right hand in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Dirrell backed Uzcategui into the ropes with a combination late in the sixth round.
Uzcategui drilled Dirrell with two hard, straight right hands within the first half of the third round. Uzcategui connected with a right hand to Dirrell’s body that buckled Dirrell’s legs just before the end of the third.
Dirrell started the fight strong by landing several left hands that kept Uzcategui at a distance.
Dirrell and Uzcategui didn’t walk to the ring until about 20 minutes later than anticipated because the New York State Athletic Commission had concerns about the pre-fight urine sample Uzcategui submitted. It was discolored, which caused the NYSAC to send that sample to a local hospital to make sure that the irregularity wasn’t something that should’ve prevented Uzcategui from fighting Dirrell.
Once the additional testing indicated Uzcategui was fit to fight, Uzcategui and Dirrell began walking to the ring shortly before 9:30 p.m. ET. Showtime’s telecast began at 9 p.m. ET.
Less than an hour later, the result of their rematch Saturday night was much more conclusive than the outcome of their first fight.
Uzcategui was winning that bout on two of the three scorecards through eight rounds. Referee Bill Clancy disqualified him, though, because Uzcategui hit Dirrell after the bell sounded to end the eighth round.
Dirrell said he couldn’t continue once Uzcategui crushed him with a flush left hook to the jaw after the bell. That punch sent Dirrell to the canvas, face-first.
The situation worsened when Lawson sucker-punched Uzcategui in the ring following the fight. Felonious assault charges against Lawson were downgraded to a misdemeanor assault charge, but Uzcategui’s handlers plan to pursue punitive damages once Lawson’s criminal case is resolved in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.