Fueled by Family, Anthony Dirrell Dodges Haters & Chases Belts

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The two-time world super middleweight champion says he still has plenty to offer the sport as he prepares to face Kyrone Davis in a world title eliminator Saturday night on FOX.

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Dirrell vs Davis Final Press Conference

Anthony Dirrell has toyed with the idea of retirement for years.

Mindful of what can happen when a fighter stays on too long past their expiration date, Dirrell, a father of three young boys who turned 36 last October, has tried to set deadlines for when he would walk away from a sport he has participated in since he was nine. 

First it was when he turned 34. That came and went with him fighting twice in 2019, winning a vacant super middleweight title in February of that year and then losing the belt to David Benavidez eight months later. 

The topic surfaced again after that loss to Benavidez.  

Dirrell, a two-time titleholder at 168 pounds, broached the idea of stepping away from the sport with his wife. A family man who relies on his flesh and blood to help guide his career, Dirrell’s wife had the power to do what his opponents have not: End his career. Instead, she gave him the green light to continue, saying he was competitive enough against Benavidez to be allowed another run at a title. 

“My family gives me the energy and the confidence I need to keep going,” Dirrell said in a phone interview this week. “I asked her after the Benavidez fight, ‘what should I do?’ She said to keep going. ‘You still got it,’ she said. ‘You looked good that fight.’ So, of course I’m going to listen to her. She cares about my wellbeing and she cares about my health, so just being there I’m happy with it. When you get married — I can’t make a decision without her, so it’s a good feeling to have her support.”

Whether that decision was a sound one and the good vibes continue will be determined by what happens on Saturday, when Dirrell takes on Kyrone “Shut it Down” Davis in a 12-round WBC World Super Middleweight title eliminator as the headliner of a FOX PBC Fight Night event from the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles.

The show also features a pair of intriguing teenage prospects in 19-year-old welterweight Jesus Ramos, who will face Jesus Bojorquez in a 10-round co-feature and 18-year-old Vito Mielnicki, Jr., who squares off against Noe Lopez in an eight-round welterweight match to open the broadcast at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT in an event promoted by TGB Promotions.

With the bout a WBC title eliminator and Canelo Alvarez possessing that belt, a win against Davis could put Dirrell in line to face Alvarez, a possibility that would satisfy his goal of only chasing titles at this stage in his career. 

Asked if he would like a rematch against Benavidez, Dirrell (33-2-1, 24 knockouts) quickly rejected the idea, saying the bout held no appeal because Benavidez no longer had a title. Dirrell fought well but was troubled by a cut that he sustained in the sixth round of their match. Benavidez was later stripped of his WBC belt after he missed weight before his next bout with Roamer Alexis Angulo last August.

“He has nothing to offer,” Dirrell said of Benavidez, who’s scheduled to take on Ronald Ellis on March 13. “He doesn’t have a belt so I couldn’t care less about him. I’m 36. I can’t fight for nothing. The belts are where the money is, and that’s what I want to fight for. That’s what I want to do at this point is fight for a belt.”

A bout against Canelo, however, satisfies that benchmark and is far more intriguing to him, even if he allows that others may not be so excited, because of his age. 

“I think it would be a great fight,” Dirrell said. “It’s a fight that some people would want to see and others may not. They may think I’m not worthy enough for that fight, but styles make fights at the end of the day, and I think my style will give him problems.”

After turning pro in 2005, Dirrell has emerged as the elder statesman of a hot super middleweight division that also includes IBF champion Caleb Plant, Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders, Danny Jacobs and an up-and-comer in David Morrell Jr. A veteran whose durability and resilient mindset have allowed him to remain a player at 168, Dirrell is looking for the biggest showdowns as he counts down the days until he does eventually leave the sport. 

They think they know you just because of social media, but they don’t know real life. Two-Time World Super Middleweight Champion - Anthony Dirrell

A candid and thoughtful fighter, Dirrell is keenly aware of how he is perceived by the boxing public. While he is a two-time titleholder who overcame cancer and other physical issues, he knows that if he were ever to secure a blockbuster bout with Canelo or even Plant, the public’s reaction might be mixed.  

“In life you have haters,” he said. “I think (the comedian) Kat Williams said it best, ‘If you have 12 haters at the beginning of the summer, try to get 15 before the end of the day because you’re nothing without them. I salute them. I don’t mind them. I’ll take whatever you got to dish and won’t even listen to you, so whatever.”

He tries to take it all in stride, even when the criticism comes from unexpected places. Earlier this month Dirrell was idling in his Rolls Royce in Boca Raton, Florida when he was suddenly approached by Daniel Macdonald, a social media star who posts entertaining videos of him approaching people in expensive cars and asking what they do for a living. 

“You can’t be running up on people like that,” Dirrell said after Macdonald did exactly that. After Macdonald introduced himself, Dirrell accommodated him and played along. 

Somehow though, the seemingly innocuous video was met with criticism with some observers claiming the image of Dirrell driving a luxury car was evidence he was squandering his earnings. Dirrell lets out a deep breath at the reaction the incident engendered. 

“A few people on Twitter were saying that I couldn’t afford the car and stuff like that,” he said. “But that’s people just counting pockets. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. I had time that day to say a few things, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what they think. I don’t really care what people think. I don’t listen to outsiders who don’t follow me, or I don’t even know. Whatever they say is irrelevant to me. It was weird how they jumped on me because I had a Rolls Royce. They can think what they want. People don’t get paid for their thoughts. They think they know you just because of social media, but they don’t know real life.”

Dirrell had a recent run-in with another social media star when he bumped into Jake Paul at Dirrell’s Big Time boxing club in Boca Raton, where he has spent three months preparing for his bout with Davis (15-2, 6 knockouts). Dirrell had been critical of social media stars dipping their toes in boxing, especially after Paul drilled the ex-NBA player Nate Robinson on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s PPV exhibition with Roy Jones Jr. last November. But after meeting Paul in person and learning of his commitment to the sport, he came away from the brief encounter with more respect for Paul. 

 “I didn’t box him or anything,” Dirrell said. “I told him what I thought about the Nate Robinson fight. I told him that I felt it was disrespectful because YouTubers coming to boxing and basketball players coming to boxing are taking the spotlight from people who really box. But when I was talking to him, he said he was serious about it, and that’s all I can do is respect the man who’s serious about it and take his word for it.”

Dirrell is certainly taking this fight seriously, knowing what’s at stake and how quickly fortunes can change. Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in late 2006, a finding that kept him out of the ring for nearly two years, during which he reportedly endured six hours of surgery and over eight months of chemotherapy. Dirrell returned to the ring in October of 2008, but his career was threatened once again when he broke a bone in his left leg while riding his motorcycle in his hometown of Flint, Michigan in 2012, forcing him to undergo a four-hour surgery to repair the injury. Dirrell overcame those health issues and two years later he captured the WBC super middleweight title against Sakio Bika in a 2014 rematch of their 2013 draw. 

Now, he hopes to overcome a nearly 17-month layoff to put himself back in the championship picture at 168 pounds with an emphatic win against Davis. After enduring a long training camp and a long layoff, Dirrell isn’t looking for a long night on Saturday. 

“I want a knockout,” he said. “I think everyone knows that. I think everyone knows that’s what I look for every fight. If I don’t get it, I’ll just go the 12 rounds. I can go, it’s just that I’m going for the knockout. We don’t get paid for overtime.”

For a closer look at Anthony Dirrell, check out our fighter page. 

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