Andre Dirrell sees breakout opportunity in James DeGale
The landscape of boxing has changed quite a bit for Andre Dirrell since he competed in the Super Six tournament more than five years ago. Back then, he was recognized as one of the top 168-pound fighters in all of boxing and looked impressive in a controversial loss to Carl Froch and during 11 rounds against Arthur Abraham – before Abraham got himself disqualified for hitting Dirrell while he was down. A 21-month layoff combined with contractual disputes didn’t help matters as Dirrell faded into the background and other fighters shuffled their way into the space he had occupied.
Since then, Dirrell has quietly gone 5-0, but will finally get an opportunity to prove why he was once recognized as one of the best super middleweights in the world when he faces James DeGale on May 23 for the vacant IBF title live on Premier Boxing Champions on NBC.
“People know me but it’s my job to keep my name ringing,” Dirrell (24-1, 16 knockouts) told RingTV on a recent conference call when asked if he feels that he’s the forgotten super middleweight. “I haven’t had the opportunity to do that until now. But I stayed in the gym, stayed sharp and looked great. This is about to be a breakout fight for me.”
It’s no secret to fight aficionados that Dirrell has the goods to compete with the elite. And right now the names floating around the 168 division that he could possibly face include Andre Ward (whom he declined to fight in the Super Six), Gennady Golovkin (who beat Dirrell in the 2004 Olympic games), Badou Jack (who recently beat his brother, Anthony, for the WBC title) and rematches with Froch and Abraham. The possibilities are endless. But first, Dirrell must get past 2008 Olympic gold medalist James DeGale; which will be no easy task.
Although DeGale (20-1, 14 KOs) has something that Dirrell hasn’t in a gold medal, the 31-year-old is ready to prove who the better fighter is in front of the fight fans in the Agganis Arena in Boston.
“A lot of people say we are evenly matched and I like that scenario,” Dirrell said of this weekend’s showdown. “I know I’m faster, smarter and a better boxer than he is and it’s just as simple as that. But none of that comes without hard work and I know he’s worked his ass off. I know what kind of guy I’m facing on the 23rd. I just feel like I’ll be the better man that night.”
A victory over DeGale will thrust Dirrell right back into the upper echelon of competition. It’s probably where he should have been had he not had to sit on the shelf for nearly two years. But Dirrell says he learned from that particularly dark time and will come out the better man because of it.
“I was going through stuff with my family and I wanted to retire but I knew my time would come again,” Dirrell says of the layoff. “I had to get out of my contract. It was quite a stressful time but I knew I would get back in that ring and I didn’t let it veer me away from the sport.”
Now that he’s back, Dirrell promises that the second chapter of his career will be one for the books. And it all starts with James DeGale.