Cancer survivor Anthony Dirrell looking to complete epic one-two combo

Cancer survivor Anthony Dirrell looking to complete epic one-two combo

There is an opportunity for a wonderful kind of Daily Double to be completed in boxing on Saturday.

For the second week in a row, a boxer who has beaten cancer is fighting for a world title. Last week, Daniel Jacobs, who couldn't walk at one point because of osteosarcoma, defeated Jarrod Fletcher in a brilliant performance to win the regular version of the WBA middleweight championship at the Barclays Center in New York.

On Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., fellow cancer survivor Anthony Dirrell will challenge WBC super middleweight champion Sakio Bika for his belt in a rematch of a hotly disputed split draw on Dec. 7. One judge had Bika winning, one had Dirrell and the third had it even in an ugly, foul-filled match.

Dirrell was diagnosed in 2006 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after finding a lump in his chest.

"I was in Vegas training for a fight and I had this pain in my chest," Dirrell said. "I went to the doctor and he found a tumor in the middle of my chest. He said it could be [benign] or it could be [malignant]. Obviously, you're afraid and you hope it isn't cancer, but there is a lot of uncertainty around it at first."

When the results of the biopsy came in, Dirrell learned the tumor was malignant.

But Dirrell, though shocked and disappointed, wasn't about to give in.

Anthony Dirrell, left, lands a punch against Sakio Bika. (Getty)
Anthony Dirrell, left, lands a punch against Sakio Bika. (Getty)

"I thought once about dying, but I knew I was going to fight it hard," he said. "And the doctor gave me some good news when he told me the cure rate was pretty good. I made up my mind pretty much right away I was going to win this fight."

It was hardly easy. He was presented with two options. Doctors could open his chest and remove the tumor, and that would have taken the cancer from his body.

Or they could try to eliminate it via chemotherapy. As much as he had heard and been warned about the horrors of chemo, Dirrell wasn't much interested in having a surgeon crack open his chest.

Chemotherapy it would be.

And, not surprisingly, it was a grueling experience.

"Every time I got the chemo, I threw up," Dirrell said. "Every time. I did not lose my hair. I still had my hair. Some of it came out, but it was a small amount and so you really couldn't tell. I had to take the chemo every two weeks, and I'd sit there for four hours and let it drip in me."

On the one hand, he willingly went to the treatments in an effort to save his life, but it weakened him and consistently made him very ill.

It was not a pleasant experience to say the least, and Dirrell concedes he had moments when he thought about skipping the treatment.

"It was horrible; the worst I ever felt in my life," said Dirrell, whose older brother, Andre, won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in Greece. "There were some days I was walking to the building where I was throwing up [before getting the treatment] because I knew how it was going to do me, and I could taste the taste of it in my mouth. I knew how I was going to feel."

He made it through the ordeal, he said, with considerable help from his family and friends. When he was at his low points, they were there to comfort him and offer support.

It made a massive impact upon him. From the first day that he heard the word cancer uttered, he dreamed of getting back into the ring.

His family and friends wouldn't let him forget that goal, pushing him to endure because of the payoff at the end.

"I was hoping I could do what I used to do," Dirrell said. "There were the ups and downs along the way, but I was training in the two weeks between [chemotherapy sessions]. I wouldn't box, but I was running and I was still training. … It was uplifting to have the support I got from my family and my close friends. There were times I wanted to quit chemo.

"That's how bad it was. I wanted to quit and not do it. My family stood by my side and told me I'd get through it. Because of them, I pushed on and I got through it and that's why I'm here."

Jacobs is believed to be the first boxer to ever come back from cancer to win a world title, though Dirrell had the first opportunity. But there was no competition between the men.

Jacobs, who will fill in for Paulie Malignaggi for color commentary on Showtime's broadcast on Saturday, said Dirrell was there for him when he needed him.

"When I had my very first charity fundraiser party, Anthony attended," Jacobs said. "Afterward, we both discussed it and decided that we should do this together, to inspire each other, to inspire others, especially after coming back the way we did to be in the positions that we are.

"This, for me, what Anthony and I have, is absolutely like a brotherhood, a fraternity between two guys who happen to be in the same tough sport [of] boxing. What we have set out to accomplish is bigger than boxing, bigger than me or him. This is for the world, to be an inspiration for people, to give them hope. That's what it's about, just helping to lead the way to give people hope."

Dirrell has more than just hope he'll follow Jacobs' lead and win a world title. He's absolutely convinced he won the first match with Bika and said, bluntly, "There's no way he can beat me." Dirrell said he'll make a few adjustments, but expects to roll to a victory.

"It's going to mean the world," Dirrell said of winning the belt. "I mean, I've already won the biggest fight of my life. I beat cancer. To come back and do what I love to do, to box, and to not only come back but to win a championship, it's going to be magnificent.

"I really can't explain fully how it's going to feel because I haven't done it yet, but I know it's going to be epic. Words won't be able to describe it."

Jacobs, doing commentary at ringside, will try, though. Only he, in the long history of boxing, will truly understand how Dirrell feels should he get that epic win.

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