Mike Coppinger

A confident, optimistic Dirrell returns to ring after 21-month recovery


Andre Dirrell had just authored the biggest win of his young career, yet he couldn’t celebrate. He lay on the mat writhing in pain, unaware that he was even the victor.

The Flint, Michigan native out-boxed Arthur Abraham with ease over 11 rounds, but the end came abruptly when Abraham took a cheap shot at Dirrell after the fighter slipped to the canvas. Abraham threw a vicious right hook at the vulnerable Dirrell, ending the fight when Dirrell was deemed unable to continue, a DQ victory awarded to the fouled boxer.

Dirrell (19-1, 13 knockouts) consequently withdrew from the Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament, citing neurological issues stemming from the illegal blow. The 29-year-old speed merchant hasn’t fought since, on the mend now for over 21 months. That will all change on Friday when he makes his long awaited return, as he faces Darryl Cunningham at the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon, Calif. on ShoBox: The New Generation (11 p.m. ET).

“I’ve really enjoyed my career up until the injury and I’m just looking forward to getting in there and showing what I can do,” said Dirrell. “I’m glad the tournament is over and that I can get back in there in 2012. I want to start the rest of my career off with a bang and finish it with a bang. I don’t plan on having any more mishaps for the rest of my career.”

Dirrell hopes to jump right back into the mix after he’s past Cunningham (24-2, 10 KOs), with plenty of big matchups awaiting him in the stacked 168-pound division. One fighter Dirrell would love to take on is undefeated Montreal-based IBF titleholder Lucian Bute, a fighter he feels hasn’t been tested yet.

“He’s fought in his hometown his whole career and fought the same type of fighters,” said Dirrell, a southpaw. “I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s an excellent fighter. He has a great uppercut and a great jab and he’s quick on his feet. But he’s fought B-minus fighters his whole career and I’m not the first to say that. It’s just my evaluation. Every fan wants to see you fight the big dog, whether it be me or someone else.

“Lucian Bute has a lot to prove, but everyone has a lot to prove. But he has been protected and he cannot deny it.”

The fighter known as “The Matrix” has been given a clean bill of health by the doctors and has no concerns heading into his comeback fight.

“I’ve thought about it in my workout sessions but for the most part I’ve put it out of my mind. But once I really started to work out hard and spar it really left my mind because I always just believed I would be where I’m at when I left the sport. My only concern now is putting on a good showing for the fans. I’m not too concerned about any of the problems I had after the Arthur Abraham fight.”

Dirrell’s manager and trainer, his uncle Leon Lawson Jr., also isn’t concerned with the head injury and expects Dirrell to be in top form heading into the new year.

“Sparring went good, training went good, now we just gotta see the end result on Friday night,” Lawson Jr. told RingTV.com. “It’s a process but he’s looking sharp. Everything has been clicking. 2012 is going to be a big year for Anthony (Andre’s brother) and Andre. We’re looking to take over boxing in 2012.”

Dirrell is excited about the prospects of taking over the super middleweight division with his brother, much like the Klitschkos at heavyweight. His brother Anthony made his ShoBox debut one month earlier, an impressive victory over Renan St. Juste. With Andre returning to the mix, he hopes to collect the titles at 168 and dominate the division alongside his brother.

“He’s been right there with me the whole time,” said Dirrell. “We just feed off each other’s energy. I think he should go after all the belts and if I’m in the way I’ll step out of the way; just change to another belt and another dream. There are lots of belts out there and more than one or two out there who have them. We’re both just looking to make a name for ourselves.

“If he’s winning belts and I’m winning belts then it’s all good and we’ll be like another Klitschko. I’m looking forward to all his success and I’m looking forward to mine as well.”

Friday marks the second phase of Dirrell’s career – and he’s hoping it will be the genesis of a legendary run.

“I want to have my name mentioned with the (Manny) Pacquiaos and the Mayweathers,” Dirrell remarked. “Just chasing the titles down. I have a strong, strong desire to become the best that ever did it. As long as I keep my mind set on that I know I can reach a pretty high level.”



Photos / Fightwireimages.com

Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger

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