By Sean Crose
It may not have been a pretty affair, but Anthony Dirrell of Flint, Michigan won the WBC super middleweight title last night by beating Sakio Bika in an ugly, clunky rematch. Hopefully it won’t be the fight itself that many remember, however. Rather, it would be far more pleasant for fans to think back on the event as the time a cancer survivor won a major boxing title.
From 2007, to at least 2008, after all, Dirrell battled lymphoma. To anyone who’s been effected by cancer, or has even been close to someone who has, Dirrell’s win on Saturday at the StubHub center in Carson City, California could be seen as a shared victory. For people naturally like to root for those they can relate to. And a lot of individuals; far too many, in fact, can relate to Dirrell and his struggle.
Yet Dirrell didn’t represent the first time a fighter came back from cancer to capture a major belt. That big event happened a week before Saturday night’s super middleweight brawl, during a televised card at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. For there, Daniel Jacobs won the WBA “Regular” middleweight title when he bested Jarrod Fletcher in the fifth round.
Jacobs had been suffering from the wretched bone cancer known as osteosarcoma. The disease wasn’t able to terminate his life or career, though. It wasn’t able to terminate his dreams of being a champion, either.
It was fitting that Jacobs was announcing for the Showtime pay cable network during this past Saturday night’s card. To have the first fighter to win a belt after battling cancer calling the fight wherein a second fighter does the same thing is unique and, yup, very cool. There was no guarantee Dirrell would best Bika for the title, but the fact that he did made for rewarding viewing – at least in one sense.
To be sure, neither Dirrell or Jacobs are household names. They haven’t headlined pay per view cards and are certainly not viewed as being the best in their very competitive divisions. What’s more, it’s been said that Jacobs didn’t even have much competition when he bested Fletcher. It’s hard to take away what each man has accomplished, though. Boxing is known for being an inspirational sport, after all, and men who win championships after fighting cancer are indeed inspirational figures.
It’s worth wondering, of course, if it will someday be common to see not only cancer survivors, but survivors of other nefarious illnesses succeeding at a top level in the prize ring. One can only hope that will be the case. The past two weeks have certainly shown serious movement in the right direction.
Even if such a thing doesn’t happen right away, though, there will now always be Dirrell and Jacobs to show that what was once seen as impossible can now feasibly be accomplished. That’s a big deal, even if the actual fights in which these two men won their belts weren’t.
Boxing is, was, and probably always will be a sport known for comebacks. Ali came back against Frazier. Leonard came back against Duran. Patterson came back against Johansson. And Louis came back against Schmelling. To come back from a major sickness, however, is a pointed sort of return. For it shows fighters can best more than their fellow men.
Truth be told, the ring futures of both Dirrell and Jacobs are cloudy – at least for this writer. One never knows, of course, yet it’s hard to imagine Dirrell beating fellow super middleweight Andre Ward, just like it’s hard to imagine Jacobs beating fellow middleweight Gennady Golovkin. Perhaps both men have now reached the zeniths of their respective careers. They’re pretty impressive zenith’s, though. And for that fact alone, serious credit is due.