The careers of Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell will probably always be intrinsically linked. They both won medals with the 2004 US Olympic team. They're both named Andre. They both fight at super middleweight. The both turned pro within a month of each other. They were born less than a year apart from each other. They've both been moved along fairly slowly for high pedigree prospects. So it only makes sense to compare what the two of them are as boxers.
Note - This is NOT a hypothetical analysis of how I think an actual fight between Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell would turn out. This is also not necessarily a comparison of where the two fighters are at this moment in time. Instead, I'm taking a page out of John Sickels's book and comparing where I think the two are as prospects, and based on what tools, skills and attributes they have now, trying to project where their careers might be heading, and where they might stumble into roadblocks in the future.
For a discussion of the factors I'm looking at, please go here - discussion of tools, skills and attributes.
Handspeed - Ward doesn't have great handspeed, probably only slightly above average for a super middleweight. He does compensate for this by the fact that he throws his punches extremely straight, and thus he's often able to beat his opponent to the punch. Also, he's been matched against slow punchers to hide this deficiency. Dirrell has pretty close to elite handspeed for a super middleweight. It's not that he throws shoeshine flurries like Calzaghe or Bradley, but he's able to throw extremely quick hooking punches that actually have a lot of weight behind them. He's just one of those guys who's very quick without necessarily looking quick, because he doesn't use his quickness just for the sake of being flashy. Ward - C+, Dirrell - B+, Advantage: Dirrell
Chin -It's likely that neither guy has the best chin in the world. I don't believe either guy has been down as a pro, but I've seen Ward buzzed a couple of times, and he has yet to face any truly big punchers. Dirrell has faced at least two big punchers in Curtis Stevens and Victor Oganov. Dirrell literally ran from Stevens that entire fight, which led me to believe that he had some issues with his chin, or else he could have just outboxed the slow, limited and stocky Stevens on the outside. However, he took a few shots square on the jaw against Oganov and didn't seem phased. I suspect that both of these guys could have problems with their chin later on. Ward's upcoming fight against Edison Miranda might help answer some of the questions about his beard. Ward - C+, Dirrell - C+, Advantage: Inconclusive, pending further testing of chins, but likely an advantage for Dirrell
Relfexes -Ward doesn't have great reflexes. Dirrell is called the "Matrix" because of his ridiculous reflexes (although they're not quite as absurd as he'd like us to believe). There's a major difference here, but Ward does a lot of things that help him compensate for a lack of reflexes (tight guard, compact punching, small steps with feet always moving), while Dirrell has a lot of bad habits that prevent him from using his reflexes to the best of his abilities (keeping his head still, taking huge steps, holding his head forward). Ward - C, Dirrell, B+, Advantage: Dirrell
Power - Neither guy has great one punch power, but both guys accumulate well. Both are good at getting their weight behind their punches, although Ward does throw a lot of pitty patty jabs just to measure his opponent. Through 18 fights, Ward has 12 KOs, Dirrell has 13 KOs, though many of those KOs were based on referee intervention, and a few of Dirrell's have been on cuts. Dirrell has shown just a hair more one-punch power than Ward, but not enough more to make a real substantive difference. Ward - B-, Dirrell - B-, Advantage: Push
A lot more comes after the jump.
Size - Ward is 6'1" with a 73 inch wingspan, while Dirrell is 6'2" with a 75 inch wingspan, meaning Ward is about average and Dirrell is slightly above average. However, Ward is the naturally bigger man, having fought at light heavyweight in the amateurs while Dirrell was a middleweight (though Ward started his career as a middleweight while Dirrell has gone between SMW and LHW). Both guys use their length well when trying to fight at a distance, although Ward is more of an inside fighter and Dirrell is more of an outside fighter. Ward is capable of imposing his physical presence on an opponent, while Dirrell can't really do so. Looking down the road, both could probably pack on enough weight to comfortably fight at cruiserweight near the ends of their careers, if that's what they desire. Ward - B, Dirrell - B, Advantage: Push.
Hand - Dirrell is a southpaw, Ward is orthodox. However, Ward is very adept at switching up his stance Slight Advantage: Dirrell
Defense - Ward has a nice tight guard, and is pretty decent at picking off punches. He does leave his body open at times, especially on the inside, but he doesn't tend to get nailed with wild swings. He also throws his jab a lot, which has a nice deterrent effect, although there are plenty of guys at 168 who will be able to walk through that jab, which has very little pop behind it. Earlier in his career, Ward had a tendency to sometimes rush in with his chin up, but it seems like he's corrected this problem. Dirrell, holds his hands a bit lower, and relies a lot more on avoiding punches than picking them off. This has two effects - first, it puts him in good position to counter when he gets the other guy to miss, which accentuates his good reflexes and handspeed. Second, it means that when he doesn't see something, he's more likely to get nailed by a wild punch. Oganov and Hanshaw both managed to connect on a few of these that would have been blocked by a guy who holds his hands higher, but that just doesn't suit his offensive style well. For what it's worth, he's very good at executing that defensive style. Two very different defenses - Ward is low risk, low reward, while Dirrell is high risk, high reward. Ward - B+, Dirrell - B, Slight Advantage - Ward
Ring Generalship - Both guys are pretty decent at getting the opponent to fight his fight, but I'm not sure how well either one could adjust if they face someone who won't play ball, like a Sakio Bika type. Ward is better at moving forward, but can move backwards a little bit, and on most nights will be the more accurate puncher in the ring. Dirrell relies on backpedaling and getting his opponent to miss, then coming forward with counterpunches and big combinations.Until they're tested a bit more, we won't know where this really stands. For now, Ward - B, Dirrell - B, Advantage: Inconclusive
Footwork - Ward has great footwork. He keeps his feet moving, but does so in a way so that they're set when they need to be, and he doesn't bounce when he does it, which means he doesn't use up as much energy to move around. He tends to take lots of small steps, though he can adjust and take bigger steps when he needs to. Dirrell's footwork, on the other hand, is pretty sloppy. He stays on the balls of his feet better than Ward, but he tends to take big steps, which means he can't fully take advantage of his great reflexes and handspeed, and that he has to really set his feet and becomes somewhat of a sitting duck when he's throwing combinations. Both do a great job at creating different angles to throw punches from, though Ward does that more with his feet while Dirrell does that more by varying between throwing straight and wide punches. That means Dirrell will be more prone if he faces a good counterpuncher. Also, Dirrell's footworkm has led to some slips, but all you need is a punch to be thrown during a slip for it to be called a knockdown. Ward - A-, Dirrell - C-, Advantage: Ward
Head/Body Movement - Ward isn't much of a mover. This fits with his style of being economical overall. When he gets inside, he'll start moving his head, but he's not someone to try making guys miss by moving his head or to keep guys from coming forward with lots of lateral movement. He could actually stand to be quite a bit more shifty with his head and shoulders, because when he faces someone who can walk through the jab, he'll still be right there to land on, if he can't react quickly enough to beat them to the punch. He does move just enough that it's not a huge problem though, and his style means that the movement isn't as necessary. Dirrell has great lateral movement, but a lot of that ties into the fact that he has sloppy footwork. He's always staying on the move left and right, and doesn't usually present a stationary target except when he's on the attack himself. When he's moving, however, he keeps his head pretty straight, so if he doesn't see a punch coming, he'll still be right there to get hit by it. Ward - C, Dirrell - B, Advantage: Dirrell
Endurance - Neither guy has faded late in fights, although Dirrell's workrate advantage dissipates over time. Ward has the advantage here right now though, since he's gone the full 12 rounds (in his last fight against "Sugar Poo" Buchanan), while Dirrell only has gone over 8 rounds once, and that was in his trackmeet against Curtis Stevens. While it's nice that Stevens keeps knocking guys out early, his management should be trying to do a better job of getting him durable opposition, otherwise he could get into big trouble if he ever has to fight a guy like Andrade. Down the line, Ward will probably always have better endurance than Dirrell, simply because he's a lot more efficient with his punching and his body movement than Dirrell. Ward - B+, Dirrell - C+ (with room to improve), Advantage: Ward
Punching Ability - Ward is a lot more efficient with his punches than Dirrell. When on the outside, Ward likes to set things up with a judge jab, and generally won't throw until he has a nice opening. Dirrell, on the other hand, sometimes likes to open up his opponent by getting blocked first, opening up a spot on the body to attack. While this can be effective, it also means that he uses more energy in his attack than Ward. Ward's punches, for the most part, are straighter than Dirrell's, but Dirrell does a better job of mixing up his punches. Dirrell can get a bit wild with his punches, which might leave him open to get nailed in the future. Dirrell tends to be a better combination puncher than Ward, who's more of a straightforward 1-2 puncher much of the time who can be too predictable for his own good. Dirrell can throw quick 6 or 7 punch combos with a lot of mustard behind all of the punches, but as I've already mentioned, he tends to get his feet a bit crossed up when he does this, which might leave him open for a skilled opponent. Finally, Dirrell often strafes his punches, which means he's more likely to cause cuts on his opponents (and he has cut at least three of his opponents on punches already.) Ward - B, Dirrell, B-, Slight Advantage: Ward
Heart - Both guys seem to have a decent heart, but neither of them have really been tested yet. There are questions about Ward's heart because he's a bit of a complainer, motioning to the ref when he thinks the other guy is fighting dirty. There are questions about Dirrell's heart because he's turned into the Road Runner for stretches of fights before. Neither guy has ever looked like they wanted to quit in the ring though, even when they've faced what little adversity they've faced. Advantage: Inconclusive
Desire - Neither guy has given any reason to question their desire. They both show up in great shape, and they're both purported gym rats. Ward does a little bit of a better job of staying out of trouble in his spare time. Advantage: Push
Durability - Ward seems to have below avewrage durability. He lost nearly a year after blowing out his knee, and lost another seven months after tearing his thumb ligaments. He's also been rumored to have some wrist problems. These issues not only mean he won't be able to fight as much, but also that his knee issues could sap his speed and his hand issues could sap his power. While he's technically sound, his style works best when he's able to bully his opponent a bit, and it's hard to do that if you have hand problems. Also, Ward's been cut a couple of times on headbutts, which might lead to cut problems down the line. Dirrell had some shoulder problems in the amateurs, but has never been hurt or cut as a pro. Ward - D, Dirrell - B+, Advantage: Dirrell
Overall, it turns out to be a hypothetical in skill versus talent. Dirrell is quite clearly the more talented fighter, and I still think that he has more potential in the long-term. However, despite fighting a lower caliber of opposition than Dirrell, it seems to me that Ward is still developmentally ahead of Dirrell.
Ward is pretty consistent, and doesn't make many mistakes. While this will help prevent him from being upset on the way up, it concerns me that he won't be willing to take enough offensive risks to be able to beat the elite in the division, and I think that even technically inferior but tricky fighters like Andrade and Bika could give Ward major problems. Unfortunately for Ward, he doesn't have a lot of room to grow. There are a few areas where he can improve, but at this point, he mostly is what he is, unless he completely changes his style. Thus, he shouldn't have many problems getting to the elite level, but I think he'll have a lot of problems staying there. Also, his lack of durability might have a very detrimental effect on his career.
Dirrell is the opposite. He's not quite a freak of nature, but he has well above average athleticism, and in some ways he's only scratched the surface on his potential. If he gets a better trainer who's able to improve his footwork and his defense, he could become an elite level fighter. The best comp to Dirrell at the moment is Chad Dawson, although I feel that Dawson is a better technical fighter at this point than Dirrell is. This also is instructive of his current flaws. He'll have problems with a bulldog who comes forward and is willing to take a punch to dish out two. He could also have big problems with a good counterpuncher, since he makes mistakes in leaving himself open after combinations and sometimes gets crossed up with his footwork.
In the end, I give the slight advantage to Andre Dirrell. He's the higher risk pick, but he has what you can't teach. Ward is a great bet to win a belt at some point in his career, but a poor bet to become a pound for pound fighter. Dirrell could flame out before he wins a belt, but he's shown improvement over the years, and if he works to continue to improve, he could be someone that people remember long after he retires.