It may be unfair to speak of Andre Dirrell in the past tense after his TKO loss to Jose Uzcategui Saturday night at the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, but it wouldn’t be dishonest.
Whoever Dirrell was, or, more importantly, could have been as a boxer is no more. So, I’m going to talk about him as he is.
Dirrell was quite possibly the most puzzling enigma of his era. An excellent athlete, with fast hands, good power, quick feet, slick boxing skills, and an ability to frustrate his opponent with defense which he could turn to offense with alacrity. Which is exactly why his career was so frustrating.
The history of boxing is littered with underachievers, but even most of them had a moment. Maybe they took a title, had a win over another great fighter, something.
However, Dirrell was almost all tease. Even his best win comes with a catch. An 11th round DQ victory over Arthur Abraham in the Super Six tournament way back in March of 2010.
Ahead comfortably on all three cards after thoroughly out boxing Abraham for 10 rounds, scoring the first knockdown of Abraham’s career in the 4th, the desperate German was making a run at Dirrell, when Dirrell slipped on the canvas, and Abraham hit him while he was down, causing the disqualification. While it’s correct that all Dirrell needed to do for the final two rounds was stay upright, the weirdness of the ending took luster from the win.
Even worse, many people in and around boxing speculated Dirrell was not that badly injured and decided to take the easy way out for the victory. That’s when things really got strange. Dirrell dropped out of the tournament, claiming neurological damage, and then all but dropped out of the sport for the next four years.
Between the Abraham fight and a run of three fights in 2014 starting in August of that year, Dirrell fought only twice against inferior competition. He looked healthy and in no way physically diminished in those two fights, but something was clearly off. Always a cautious, defense first fighter, Dirrell had become even more hesitant, more reluctant to engage.
He did pick up the pace with those three fights in 2014, but again, the competition was modest. You could easily argue that Dirrell had not one single meaningful fight in over five years when he walked into the ring against Brit, James DeGale in May of 2015 in Boston for the IBF Super Middleweight title.
Let’s just say it showed. While there were occasional flashes of Dirrell’s gifts in the fight, he was often bullied by DeGale, and by the late rounds of the fight looked like a man trying to finish, not to win.
That was the only time Dirrell fought that year. He only took to the ring once in 2016 as well. The same with 2017 when he “won” on a DQ again while trying to take the same title he fell short of against James DeGale, this time against Jose Uzcategui, who hit Dirrell after the bell in the 8th, leaving him unable to continue.
Unlike his fight against Abraham, Dirrell was not winning the fight. In fact, the fight was beginning to look a little like the DeGale bout. Dirrell was getting hit more than ever before, and instead of joining the battle in full, he seemed to shrink from the moment.
If there was any question if Dirrell had anything left after the first fight with Uzcategui, the rematch dispelled all of that. Uzcategui beat Dirrell about the ring, and when Dirrell went to his corner after the 8th, the ending was already made before he and his corner decided not to continue. Which was the wise move. An even wiser one would be for Dirrell not to continue at all. He simply does not look like a man who has the stomach for it anymore. Which is a damn shame, because on a basis of pure physical ability, Andre Dirrell should have been one of the greats of his era.
Instead, as Paulie Malinaggi correctly pointed out before the fight, he will be carrying the mantle of the best fighter from his time NOT to win a title.
As with most conundrums in life, there’s probably not one single reason for that. Dirrell has certainly been unlucky. He suffered his first loss in the Super Six bout that preceded his tilt with Abraham by split decision against Carl Froch, where many on attendance at ringside and at home thought the Englishman got some home cooking in his backyard of Nottingham. I was one of those people.
Going into that tournament, the former bronze medalist was probably considered the most likely to break out of the three Americans who started in the tournament. Jermain Taylor was coming off two losses against Kelly Pavlik one in devastating fashion), and Andre Ward was considered less talented, if a bit of a sleeper. As it turned out, Ward ended up being the star in ascension after winning the tournament, and Dirrell was off in the ether.
To make matters worse, Dirrell’s younger brother, Anthony, went on to briefly hold a world title in the same division after besting Sakio Bika in August of 2014. Anthony is a fine fighter, but no one is confused about which brother was born with the greater gifts.
So, what do we make of the mystery of Andre Dirrell? Why did all that talent not translate into better results. I am loathe to ever question a fighter’s heart. I’ve never had to make a living getting hit in the face, and I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like to earn your dollar in that way. It takes guts and heart to do that.
Still, something was definitely missing with Andre Dirrell. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that I just don’t know if Andre Dirrell loved fighting. Even at his peak, I never saw Dirrell look hungry in the ring like so many other fighters who do go on to win championships. Boxing is a tough game if you do love it. If you don’t? Well, maybe time to think about doing something else.
Which is what I hope Andre Dirrell does. Because if he continues to fight at the age of 34 when his physical skills are showing signs of fading, he can expect more beatings like the ones he’s taken from DeGale and Uzcategui.
I can’t imagine Dirrell wants to be a stepping stone for up and comers. I think and hope he has too much pride to just be an opponent.
I wish I could do more than speculate about what Dirrell was missing as a fighter. He seemed to have everything. Everything but IT. Whatever IT is.