The Super Six World Boxing Classic stumbles into luckless Detroit tomorrow night when Andre Dirrell and Arthur Abraham face off over 12 rounds at the Joe Louis Arena.
Abraham, who has scored the only knockout thus far in the tournament, leads the Super Six standings with three points. Dirrell will be looking to put his name up on the board for the first time after losing a close decision to Carl Froch last October in Group Stage 1 action. The tournament structure awards three points for knockouts, two points for decisions, and one point for draws.
Although many observers thought Dirrell, 18-1 (13), deserved the nod against Froch, the fact is, it was his own negativity that probably cost him on the scorecards. Not only did Dirrell lose a point for yoking Froch around the ring by his neck, he also spent long stretches of the each round holding, hunching over, running, and complaining. There are a number of stinkout artists currently holding boxing hostage, but Dirrell is truly in a league of his own. In fact, Dirrell seems pathologically opposed to Rule #2 of the Marquis of Queensberry Rules, first adopted in 1892: “No wrestling or hugging allowed.” It will be interesting to see if erratic Lawrence Cole, named at the last minute as referee, will also start docking points if Dirrell gets a little too affectionate in the ring. Cole can often be seen slapping at the gloves of fighters who hold on for dear life. Unfortunately for Cole, if he starts smacking at Dirrell during clinches, his
hands might fall off from overuse.
Still, Dirrell, who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, has talent and it would be a mistake to downgrade him because of a dull style predicated on scampering or clutching his way to victory. Oddsmakers have tabbed Abraham, 31-0 (25), the favorite going in, but this fight might be closer to a pick ‘em bout by the time the bell rings.
With his switch hitting tactics, his fast hands, and his willingness to fight ugly, Dirrell can be a wrong turn onto Lost Highway for anybody. In addition to being faster and rangier than Abraham, Dirrell, from Flint, about 70 miles northwest of Detroit, will be the hometown favorite. To make matters worse for Abraham, Dirrell has the edge in height and reach and, as a final insult, he is a southpaw to boot. With the exception of faded Raul Marquez, Abraham, Berlin via Armenia, has struggled with the only two notable southpaws on his record. Against Khoren Gevor, Abraham, with legitimate two-fisted power, scored a late KO over a determined fighter who gave him more trouble than anticipated, and his big hitting also came to the rescue when he dropped Ian Gardner three times en route to a close unanimous decision in 2005. Without those knockdowns, Gardner might well have eked out a split decision. Gardner, also a southpaw junk artist with fast hands,
is a reasonable approximation of Dirrell and might be a fair barometer for how Abraham would do against “The Matrix.” But Dirrell often switches stances during a fight, and that is something Abraham has never seen.
He also likes to wrap his opponents up shamelessly at times. Luckily for Dirrell, 26, no one in the Super Six is adept at infighting, which is one way to deter an opponent from excessive holding. Few can compare to Mikkel Kessler when it comes to futility in close quarters, but Abraham has not exactly distinguished himself there over the years either. In order to beat Dirrell, Abraham, 30, will have to work on the inside when Dirrell clinches and tries to apply half nelsons, headlocks, and bear hugs. To let Dirrell get off a few potshots and then stall through rounds is a grievous tactical error. Carl Froch, not exactly Henry Armstrong in the clinches, realized quickly that allowing Dirrell to spoil without paying for it would mean courting a big fat “L.” So Froch artlessly roughed Dirrell up on the inside and it paid off when Dirrell lost his composure from time to time. Indeed, there were moments in his fight against Froch when Dirrell
appeared to be whispering “anywhere but here” to himself over and over again.
In the end, this fight hinges on whether or not Abraham enters the ring with a game plan geared to neutralizing what Dirrell does best: spoiling. For Abraham to win he will have to bullyrag Dirrell the way Froch did. Abraham will have to let his hands go more often, pound the body consistently, and, perhaps most importantly, be ready to work hard on the inside, where Dirrell likes to take coffee breaks. On the outside, Abraham might be a little too slow to catch Dirrell with counterpunches, and if Abraham sticks to his conservative approach, he risks being outmaneuvered.
Since he is a world-class professional prizefighter who has proven himself over the course of 30 bouts, there is no reason to believe Abraham is unaware of the unique challenges Dirrell presents. Because of his edge in power and experience, Abraham gets the benefit of the doubt. He should be able to score a late TKO, but there should be no surprise if Dirrell, by scurrying and clinging, manages to earn the ire of chalkeaters all over the world.