As a group, casual boxing fans notice only the biggest stars–Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson. Muhammad Ali. I am not complaining. The fight game lives and dies with the superstars. They are the ones who capture the imaginations of people beyond the hardcore Fancy.
But the serious fans are always aware of the sport’s hard truths. Many young fighters appear on the scene showing the potential for greatness. They have undeniable talent and the requisite heart and grit. But ultimately, there are only so many spots at the top of the mountain.
These thoughts were inspired by the fact that Andre Dirrell returns to action this weekend. The 2004 Olympic bronze medalist is a rare talent, to be sure. And his heart cannot be questioned. Yet, as a true star, he has been a near miss.
He has been a top fighter in the super middleweight division for most of the last decade and has turned in some outstanding performances. But sometimes exceptional talent needs to be augmented by a bit of luck. And Dirrell has not had much of that.
Back in 2009. Dirrell was tapped to participate in the historic Showtime Super Six, Super Middleweight Tournament. It could have made his career. Instead, in nearly undid it.
In the first round of the tournament, Dirrell dropped a split decision to Carl Froch in the Englishman’s hometown of Nottingham. It was a wretched decision. Dirrell out-boxed Froch the entire way. Froch would go on to lose to Andre Ward in the tournament’s final. But he would also emerge as one of the sport’s biggest draws following that runner up showing.
Dirrell looked set to rebound from that narrow loss. In his next fight he was thoroughly trouncing Arthur Abraham, one of the sport’s biggest international names. But in Round 11, Dirrell slipped to the canvas and Abraham drilled him with a punch when he was down and defenseless. The result was a DQ win for Dirrell, but also a brain injury that put him out of action for most of the next three years.
Dirrell launched his comeback in earnest in 2013 and worked his way into a meeting with James DeGale, for the vacant IBF belt at 168 pounds. Dirrell came back from two early knockdowns to give DeGale a hard-fought battle. It was a compelling bout, with both men fighting with true passion, jawing at each other in clinches and between rounds. But at the end of the fight, DeGale was awarded a deserved victory and Dirrell was the picture of sporting class.
It was the kind of fight that showed boxing at its greatest, contrasting the human capacity for barbarism with our equal potential for transcendent greatness.
Now 33, he will look to keep in the hunt for that elusive world title this weekend, when he battles Mexico’s Jose Uzcategui. It is not a fight he can look past. Uzcategui has lost just once in his career, to the highly skilled Matt Korobov of Russia. At 26, Uzcategui will be fighting with a keen awareness that he can make his career by defeating Dirrell.
And Dirrell will be fighting to keep his career going.