Dirrell’s next bout has big implications

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There isn’t much pressure on Andre Dirrell when he fights Arthur Abraham in each man’s second “Super Six” 168-pound tournament bout on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

All that is on the line for Dirrell is his hope of winning the elite six-man tournament and his reputation as one of boxing’s elite young fighters.

Dirrell blew a winnable opening-round fight on Oct. 17 against Carl Froch in Nottingham, England, and now must face one of the pre-tournament favorites in what is essentially a do-or-die match.

Each fighter will compete three times in Group Stage I, but only the top four finishers will advance to the single-elimination semifinals of Showtime’s unique super middleweight event.

If Dirrell loses, he’ll go into his third bout with no points and no realistic hope of advancing. It will also somewhat tarnish his reputation as one of the game’s golden boys.

While his 2004 U.S. Olympic teammate Andre Ward has already won his first-round bout and drawn some votes in the pound-for-pound rankings, Dirrell has an unsatisfying loss and an exceptionally difficult fight ahead of him.

Lose to Abraham and Dirrell not only has two losses on his record, but he’ll also drop well down in the super middleweight picture. It would be a long way back toward contention, even after the Super Six is completed.

If you think it’s going to change Dirrell and make him fight differently, however, you don’t know Andre Dirrell. This is a man who believes strongly in his talent and in his ability to raise his game when needed.

“There’s no sense of urgency,” said Dirrell, whose back spasms last month forced postponement of the bout for three weeks, from March 6 until Saturday. “I think what the Froch fight did was it opened my eyes. I have to come in with a better game plan and I need to keep my focus.

“The Froch fight allowed me to grow. I’m such a different man talking to you now than I was just a few months ago. That fight was a great learning experience. I saw something in there that night I had never seen before in boxing. It’s something to add to my memory bank.

“I was roughed up and I did what I did. When I watch the fight, I realize there are things I could have done better.”

He spent much of his time grappling with Froch like he was in a Greco-Roman wrestling match instead of a boxing match. That was the kind of fight Froch wanted, but it certainly didn’t suit the faster and slicker Dirrell.

Abraham isn’t likely to do much more on Saturday than try to separate him from his senses, so it’s fairly obvious what Dirrell needs to do. He can’t allow himself to run into punches the way Abraham has a way of making opponents do.

Abraham is probably the hardest puncher in the tournament and getting led into a hard right could spell doom for Dirrell and his dream of winning the event.

Abraham has a difficult-to-penetrate defense and is a hard puncher, but Dirrell plans to take the offensive.

Former Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell has his reputation on the line in the Super Six tournament.
(Ingrid Barrentine/AP Photo)

“Standing still right in front of him isn’t a smart move at all,” Dirrell said. “I’m going to keep my hands in his face and try to throw him off and bring him out of the shell. I plan to use a lot of offense to break down his defense. When he opens up, my offense will be my defense.”

Abraham has seen it and heard it all before – this is a guy who has fought Edison Miranda, boxing’s premier trash talker, twice already – and is hardly intimidated.

He sits atop the Super Six standings with three points after a first-round knockout of Jermain Taylor that forced Taylor to withdraw from the tournament to contemplate his future.

In the round-robin portion of the event, the fighters are given two points for a win, three points for a win by knockout or stoppage and one point for a draw. Each fighter will compete three times and the top four will advance to the semifinals.

Abraham, the only man to score a knockout in the opening round, would be guaranteed a spot in the semifinals with a decision win.

“He’s an awkward fighter, but I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to do something with him,” Abraham said.

If he does, it will almost certainly eliminate Dirrell, who received no favors with the draw. Dirrell fought Froch in the first round, meets Abraham in the second and Ward, Yahoo! Sports’ pre-tournament choice, in the third.

It was about the toughest draw he could have received.

Dirrell is a big-time talent but has to perform or else on Saturday. He’s been through the grinder before, though, and insists he can come up big in the most significant moment of his career.

Though Abraham has more pro fights, Dirrell has a more extensive amateur background. And he believes that experience he gained in the amateurs, where he fought in many tournaments, will play to his advantage.

“There’s always pressure on you to perform,” Dirrell said. “There’s pressure on all of us to perform. That’s part of the job. But I don’t look at the expectations to perform as a burden. I was picked for this [tournament] for a reason. I know I bring a lot to the table here and I know I was chosen because I am good enough to not only compete with these guys but to beat them.

“We all know I have the better skills. I have the faster hands and I’ll be the better boxer. It’s going to be a test of wills for me. … I learned a lot from the last fight and it’s going to make a big difference for me in this one.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Mar 25, 2010