Rewind 5-6 years ago and Andre "The Matrix" Dirrell was viewed by many to be one of the next best thing at 168lbs. He appeared to have the goods. Some were even looking forward to an eventual meeting between he and fellow Olympic teammate, Andre Ward - as Dirrell appeared to be perhaps the only one with the talent and skill set to really challenge Ward. Now during this time, Andre Ward wasn't yet established as the supreme super middleweight, that would come a short while later once he cleaned out the Super Six, but there were few out there who were really denying Dirrell's talent.
After losing what many people viewed as a bogus decision against Carl Froch, Dirrell would wind up fighting Arthur Abraham in the second group stage of the Super Six. This was truly the point where everything went left for Dirrell's career. After basically dominating Abraham through 11 rounds, Dirrell slipped on the canvas to his knees, where he would take an undefended uppercut to the jaw that would put him out. The foul would cause Abraham to get disqualified - but you wouldn't know that from Dirrell's reaction. After coming to, Dirrell was clearly still in a daze and an emotional wreck. Jim Gray went in for his post-fight interview and it was abundantly clear that Dirrell wasn't okay. He was so hurt and confused from the foul that he thought he got knocked out legitimately and lost the fight.
Andre Dirrell wouldn't fight for nearly two years after that occurrence, and his budding stardom would slip right back into obscurity. Since then, however, Dirrell has rather quietly come back to win five straight fights (against relatively pedestrian opposition) but has looked to be pretty much everything he was prior to his train getting derailed - the real deal. Now, on Saturday, he's back on the elite stage where he'll fight for the title against a really good opponent in James DeGale. And he knows this is his second chance.
"People know me but it's my job to keep my name ringing," Dirrell (24-1, 16 knockouts) told RingTV on a recent conference call when asked if he feels that he's the forgotten super middleweight. "I haven't had the opportunity to do that until now. But I stayed in the gym, stayed sharp and looked great. This is about to be a breakout fight for me."
"A lot of people say we are evenly matched and I like that scenario," Dirrell said of this weekend's showdown. "I know I'm faster, smarter and a better boxer than he is and it's just as simple as that. But none of that comes without hard work and I know he's worked his ass off. I know what kind of guy I'm facing on the 23rd. I just feel like I'll be the better man that night."
With a win over DeGale, he'll not only have a world title belt but also a plethora of opportunities awaiting him. We could finally get the fight between him and Andre Ward that never came to fruition in the Super Six, a possible big money rematch against Abraham, or a less likely rematch with Carl Froch. He might even possibly get another fight with Gennady Golovkin (whom he beat once as an amateur, and then lost to in the 2004 Olympics in a very debatable decision). Wherever he goes from here, what he doesn't want to do is venture back into the dark time in his life where he was sitting on the shelf during his prime years.
"I was going through stuff with my family and I wanted to retire but I knew my time would come again," Dirrell says of the layoff. "I had to get out of my contract. It was quite a stressful time but I knew I would get back in that ring and I didn't let it veer me away from the sport."
Here's to new beginnings, and it all starts on Saturday afternoon...