This week's edition of ShoBox: The New Generation gets back to proper formula (or at least close to it) with a pair of interesting fights that will hopefully tell us more about the fighters as they step up in competition and look to make at least a slight mark on the boxing game.
In the main event, 27-year-old Anthony Dirrell looks to get his career on track and perhaps step out of the shadow of his one-year-older brother Andre. Anthony, who fights in the super middleweight division like Andre does, faces veteran Renan St-Juste in the 12-round main event, which has been sanctioned, for some reason or another, as a WBC title eliminator fight.
[ Related: Andre Dirrell Back on December 30 ShoBox ]
Dirrell (23-0, 20 KO) doesn't much compare with his brother in terms of style. While Andre is best known for his boxing skill and occasional ability to look like a world class operator, Anthony is more of a power puncher, and has more of a mean streak in the ring. While it can be said, and I believe fairly, that Andre shies away from contact sometimes, Anthony doesn't have that same tick. He's a pure fighter.
These are the reasons why, against conventional wisdom and TV hype, I truly think Anthony may have the greater long-term future in the sport. Andre has had fights where his willingness to engage has been seriously questionable. Anthony is rougher, appears tougher, and can bang.
St-Juste (23-2-1, 15 KO) is a 39-year-old Canadian southpaw who may be a bit of a tricky proposition, however. As a competent professional boxer, he is a pretty strong step up from the club fighters Dirrell has faced to date.
St-Juste has also been in the ring with a higher class of boxer before, and one of his two losses (a 2010 split decision against Marcus Upshaw) is up for debate. In December 2010, he knocked out Sebastian Demers in a mild upset in Montreal.
As cautiously high as I am on Anthony Dirrell, it would not surprise me to see him exposed in this fight. He's a good puncher, but aggression doesn't work the same against guys who know what they're doing and guys who go in without having much shot, period, because they aren't naturally good enough. I'm going to take Dirrell by stoppage in the later rounds. This is, in a way, the first make-or-break fight of Dirrell's career. If he can't handle St-Juste, he's not going to be a contender.
Co-Feature: Chris Avalos vs Jhonatan Romero
22-year-old super bantamweight Avalos (19-1, 15 KO) is a series regular (making his record sixth appearance on the show) who may be doomed to his career peaking at the ShoBox level. He is an entertaining fighter, usually, but has limitations. When he was still at 118 pounds, he was pretty thoroughly outboxed by Christopher "S.D. Kid" Martin in August 2010, which was a ShoBox special upset where the lesser-known, lesser-hyped fighter just proved to be the better man, although judge John Mariano did his best to help Avalos' cause by bizarrely scoring the fight 98-94 for the favored fighter.
Since the loss to Martin, Avalos has won three straight, including a win on the June 10 ShoBox over Khabir Suleymanov, in a fight that Suleymanov tried to make as ugly as possible.
His opponent Romero (19-0, 12 KO) is a tall (5'9"), lanky, 24-year-old Colombian. He's been matched very soft so far, with arguably his best win a six-rounder in June over journeyman Cecilio Santos. Footage of the Colombian is pretty limited, but is out there on YouTube. On the basis of that limited exposure, I favor Avalos in this fight, but Chris makes things harder than they have to be occasionally.
Weights & Quotes
Dirrell came in at 167, with St-Juste at 166½ for the main event. Avalos was at 121¾, with Romero at 121 even for the 10-round co-feature.
"It's going to be a big fight. I'm ready mentally and physically. I've been training hard, working with my brother (Andre) and the team, Team Dirrell. I'm ready."
"I'm definitely ready to go 12 rounds if I have to. The commentators always say, 'Are they ready to go 12?' If you can do it in the gym, if you are physically and mentally ready, you can do it. If you're in shape, you can do it."
"If I can get my opponent out of there, I'm going to get them out of there. I'm not going to hang in there more rounds than I have to and give this guy a chance."
"I know Dirrell is an undefeated fighter. He says he's hungry but I know I'm prepared. I'm treating this like a world championship.
"Being at 168 is better for me. It was difficult for me to make 160. I walk around in the 180s. At 168, I can keep my muscle and not worry about the weigh-in.
"The winner tomorrow will be No. 1 in the WBC but I'm not looking past Friday night."
"I didn't know until today that I'm the only fighter with six ShoBox appearances. I love the series but I think it's time to move on to the Championship level.
"I'll give fans a little of both tomorrow. I'll box and I'll brawl. We'll see what happens.
"I've been taking shots for my hand. They helped it a lot. It's fine. I could knock a guy out just as easily as I could before the injury.
"If I win tomorrow, I'd like to see Abner Mares or Vic Darchinyan in the ring. I don't have any picks for Saturday night. I just hope the winners want to give me a shot at their belts."
"I think it's better to come in here as the opponent. I'm relaxed. I'm confident. What could be better than beating a guy everyone knows?
"Only God, the promoter and my managers can tell what the future holds for me. I know that all I can do is win and better things will come for me after."