Andre Dirrell became the latest fighter to withdraw from Showtime's ill-fated Super Six World Boxing Classic, pulling out of the event on Thursday as the result of "neurologic issues" he has been suffering in the aftermath of his March 27 fight in Detroit with Arthur Abraham.
Dirrell had been set to fight his U.S. Olympic teammate, Andre Ward, on Nov. 27 in one of the six-man tournament's most high-profile bouts. Dirrell was initially injured when he was punched by Abraham on the temple while he was down after slipping in the 11th round of their bout. Dirrell, 27, won by disqualification to improve his record to 19-1. Dirrell was taken from the arena on a stretcher that night and later diagnosed with a concussion.
Dirrell's uncle, Leon Lawson Jr., who serves as his assistant trainer, said Dirrell has complained of headaches and dizziness since a brief sparring session with his younger brother, Anthony Dirrell, six or eight weeks ago. That was the first boxing activity Andre Dirrell had following the Abraham fight.
Lawson said Dirrell was examined by a neurologist, who said he expected a complete recovery. But he said Dirrell can't go back into the gym until at least three months after he is symptom-free.
"He was messing around in the gym with his brother and me and my father [Leon Sr., who is Andre's head trainer] didn't know a thing about it," Lawson Jr. said. "He came to us after that and brought it to our attention. We took him in for a complete examination.
"We had noticed that he didn't seem quite right. It was nothing that anybody not in the family would notice, but there are things that were going on that made us wonder. We got him thoroughly checked out by a neurologist to find out what was going on."
Dirrell's ouster is another major dose of bad luck for Showtime, which has endured the withdrawal of Jermain Taylor and Mikkel Kessler from the tournament as well as numerous other fights being postponed because of injuries.
Yet, despite Dirrell's injury, plenty of troubling questions remain surrounding Dirrell's withdrawal and the handling of it.
The Ward-Dirrell fight was originally scheduled for Sept. 25, but it became clear by early August that the fight was not going to happen on that date. No one, not the fighters, not Ward promoter Dan Goossen nor manager James Prince, not Dirrell promoter Gary Shaw, manager Al Haymon nor Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Ken Hershman would explain why there was no site announced, why tickets were never put on sale and why the fighters weren't training.
The bout remained listed on Showtime's website until late September. Showtime sent legal letters to Shaw, Goossen, Prince, Haymon, Dirrell and Ward earlier last month advising them it would sue if they did not fulfill their contract with them.
Shaw said Thursday the first he learned of Dirrell's problem was on Wednesday and conceded he was surprised by the news. He said he has "no direct contact with the Dirrells" and assumed Dirrell was beginning training for the planned Nov. 27 fight.
Still unexplained is why Dirrell's post-concussion symptoms weren't disclosed prior to the postponement of the event from Sept. 25. Lawson Jr. said his nephew's problems aren't what forced the postponement of the fight from its original date, even though Andre Dirrell had been complaining about concussion symptoms long prior to that.
"There was a problem between the promoters and I'm not sure what it was, but they couldn't set a venue for the fight, so no one ever went to camp," Lawson Jr. said. "It wasn't because of Andre that time."
The tournament was devised to create a star, given that the winner and the runner-up would have wound up with five consecutive fights against elite competition. Dirrell is a 2004 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist with a charismatic personality and a brilliant smile and is the type of person the tournament figured most to help, a lesser-known fighter with the skills to compete at the highest level.
It's going to wind up, though, benefitting a grizzled veteran like 41-year-old Glen Johnson. Johnson hasn't fought at super middleweight since a Sept. 23, 2000, victory over Toks Owoh. Since, he's fought exclusively at light heavyweight.
Showtime brought Johnson in to replace Kessler and gave him a bout on Nov. 6 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas against Green, who himself had replaced Taylor in the field. Until the Ward-Dirrell fight was postponed, the odds were stacked against Johnson making it out of the round-robin phase and into the single-elimination semifinals. He would have needed to have knocked out Green and hoped that Dirrell didn't beat Ward and Carl Froch didn't defeat Abraham.
Now, all Johnson needs to do is to win and he moves on. Showtime will get Ward another fight on Nov. 27, but it's not certain if that opponent will be deemed of Super Six caliber. If he is not, Ward will advance to the semifinals win or lose because he already has enough points and that fighter would just get the one bout and be done.
Johnson has long been one of the most unheralded men in the sport, though he was named the 2004 Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America after knocking out Roy Jones Jr. and won a decision over Antonio Tarver.
All Johnson does is fight the biggest, baddest men he can face. Boxing needs more like him.
"I love boxing, I really do," said Johnson, who is 50-14-2 with 34 knockouts. "The business part of it, some of the people in boxing, that makes it a bit painful, but I truly love the sport, the competition. I love that I get paid for it, but I would do it even if I weren't, just for the exercise and the competition.
"I haven't had some of the breaks that a lot of the big names have had, but I have tried to make my reputation by giving people their money's worth every time. I can't promise if I will win or lose, but I can promise that if you come to watch Glen Johnson fight, you'll see me give you everything I have while I'm in there."
The Super Six is a brilliant concept that should have worked perfectly. But boxing is full of dirty dealing and manipulators and people who don't live by their word. As a result, a simple and straightforward event should do the boxers, the television network and the fans plenty of good has developed into a laughingstock.
It's enough to make one physically ill and want to walk away from the sport forever. It's guys like Glen Johnson with their warrior spirits and their willingness to fight who continue to keep us as boxing fans transfixed.