True greatness has been just beyond the grasp of Andre Dirrell in the ring.
It’s not that the 33-year-old Flint, Michigan, native hasn’t had an excellent career. If anything, he’s been a winner ever since he and his younger brother, Anthony Dirrell, himself a former 168-pound world champion, began boxing in elementary school under the tutelage of their grandfather Leon “Bumper” Lawson, a longtime friend and former sparring partner of Muhammad Ali.
Andre Dirrell was outstanding as an amateur, earning the 2003 U.S. national amateur championship and winning the bronze medal in the middleweight division at the 2004 Olympics, where current unbeaten 160-pound unified champion Gennady Golovkin defeated him in the semifinals.
The switch-hitting southpaw has come even closer to reaching the top as a professional, twice competing for 168-pound world titles, but coming up just short on both occasions. In his first world title bout, Dirrell traveled to the U.K. to challenge unbeaten British champion Carl Froch, who won a disputed split decision in his hometown of Nottingham to retain his crown.
It took Dirrell 5½ years to get his second title shot, this time in Boston against British southpaw James DeGale for a vacant championship in May 2015. Dirrell was knocked down twice in Round 2, but still nearly roared back over the second half of the fight before losing a unanimous decision that was judged 114-112 on two scorecards.
Now nicknamed “The Resurrected,” Dirrell (25-2, 16 KOs) is closing in on a third try at a world championship. He will battle Jose Uzcategui (26-1, 22 KOs) for an interim 168-pound title Saturday night at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in a co-feature event to the Gary Russell Jr. vs Oscar Escandon 126-pound world title bout (Showtime, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT).
The Dirrell-Uzcategui winner will be in line to challenge DeGale, who is recovering from injuries sustained in his draw with Badou Jack in their title unification bout in January.
As Dirrell put the finishing touches on his training camp, he took a timeout to discuss his fight with Uzcategui, a potential rematch with DeGale and his continued pursuit of greatness.
In your last fight in April 2016 against fellow southpaw Blake Caparello, you had to overcome an 11-month ring absence entering that fight, and then a second-round knockdown during it before winning a 10-round unanimous decision. What did you learn from that bout, especially now that you’ve been out of the ring for 13 months?
I let it get to me when he put me down. That bothered me. I realize that I have to maintain a sharp mindset. But I got frustrated with myself, maybe because he was coming down in weight and he was so big. I gave it everything that I had and I dominated, but my game plan kind of went south.
I’ve trained to be patient, stick to my game plan, be focused and stay sharp throughout the fight. I’ve made sure that with my sparring, the ring rust will go completely out of the window. I’m sharp as a tack and look fantastic in sparring.
How would you describe Jose Uzcategui’s style and what strategy do you anticipate employing against him?
Uzcategui has a basic style that I’ve seen before. I’m more in tune with paying attention to his mistakes and ring generalship. Styles make fights.
How much does it enter your mindset to try to become the first fighter to stop Uzcategui, and do you feel a need to look especially impressive in this fight?
I’m not worried about looking impressive. I’ll find it more impressive to whip a guy’s ass for 36 minutes than to get in there and stop him. It’s a beautiful thing to show that you have the power to stop a guy, and I certainly haven’t stopped a guy in a while.
So that would be impressive but, nevertheless, he’s been dropped a couple of times. Matt Korobov put him down a couple of times (in Uzcategui’s only loss in June 2014), but I will beat him more convincingly. I’ll make him look more amateurish. I’ll do my best to make him look as bad as possible.
Stopping him isn’t my biggest concern as much as being aggressive. Once that’s accomplished, the world will know that Andre Dirrell-James DeGale II is a must. It’s on my mind 24-7, and I know that I have a potential roadblock ahead of me in Uzcategui, but I will chop him down.
How do you rank the top fighters in your division?
I’m definitely the top guy in my division. Inactivity has only proven to slow that process down. Of course, I’m not at the top right now, and I made a lethal mistake being dropped twice in the second round by James DeGale, but he did floor me and I allowed that to happen.
Badou Jack moved up to 175; I’m first, but he would be second. So, it’s me, James DeGale, and my brother is a great fighter, as well. I don’t know how to put them in order. I’d just put me on the top of the list, and now it’s time for me to prove to the world that Andre Dirrell is the most dominant in the weight class.
“ Stopping [Jose Uzcategui] isn’t my biggest concern as much as being aggressive. Once that’s accomplished, the world will know that Andre Dirrell-James DeGale II is a must. It’s on my mind 24-7. ” Andre Dirrell, two-time 168-pound title challenger
Would you go to England for a rematch with DeGale given your disputed loss there to Carl Froch?
If I had to, I would, but I would rather do it in China. I’ve been to England, and what happened to me there really soured me. America is more neutral. I think DeGale would get a fair shake. I don’t feel that way about England after the Carl Froch fight. I know he didn’t win more than four rounds against me.
Froch knows I beat him. My style is really hard to deal with. Of course he would want to fight me again. The guy, to this day, still has bad things to say about me. Why would you still be obsessed with someone you beat? Carl Froch still expends a lot of energy focusing on me.
As far as DeGale, we saw how I rallied back after the knockdowns. I think I’ll get a second chance with DeGale. He’s a solid, sound fighter who is hungry, doesn’t back down and brings a lot to the table. I respect James DeGale a lot. He’s a stand-up fighter and I’m looking forward to a rematch.
Who is the one boxer in history you would’ve liked to fight, and how would the battle go?
There’s no fighter I grew up watching that I wished I could fight to compare my skills to.
What about Welsh southpaw Joe Calzaghe, who retired undefeated in 2009 after becoming a unified 168-pound world champion?
Joe Calzaghe was a very active puncher and was definitely on my list of guys to fight when I was coming along, but he got out early. He fought and beat Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins late in his career, but he took off, which is was a smart move, because you see where he is now.
He’s considered a legend, but I don’t think he fought enough top opposition here in America. I’m not taking anything away from him. I still respect him. You have to at the end of the day. A fight with Calzaghe requires a lot of activity in your hands and with your mind.
You have to be smart on your feet and selective with your punches. You have to take away a lot of his abilities. He throws a lot of punches, he’s fast and he’s very active, and I believe I would do an excellent job fighting Joe Calzaghe. I naturally feel as though I would win if I was to ever have faced him.
What is your favorite punch to throw?
I don’t have a favorite punch, but if I did, I wouldn’t say what it is. But it is fun to land uppercuts, though, I will say that. When you hit a guy flush with one and you see his head go up, that’s a pretty picture to watch and to talk about.
Just like the last [heavyweight title fight] where Anthony Joshua knocked out Wladimir Klitschko. He hit Klitschko at one point with an uppercut that was a beautiful shot. That’s a fun shot to see and talk about. But I have an array of punches because I’m a combination puncher.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
... an honest, hard-working man with two, three or four jobs providing for my family because I love them dearly. I’m a go-getter who doesn’t give up. I couldn’t live the street life. I didn’t even try or attempt it. The guys that I knew who were in the streets are either dead or in jail.
What do your wife and your children mean to you?
With my wife, Alaia, my youngest son, Ayden, 5, my middle son, Andre, 9, and my daughter, Anaijah, 11, I believe the love I give my family determines how strong and how morally coordinated the family will be and how in tuned we are helping each other.
My daughter just had a birthday and I finally got her a phone. I was going to wait until she was 13, but what came with that phone was a long conversation. We sat down and laid down the ground rules on what her responsibilities are in having a phone.
It’s important to do little things like that. I’m always bending my kids’ ears, playing with them, giving fatherly time. That’s something I want them to do not only for their siblings, but also for their future families. It’s more important to spend time than money. It’s about teaching right and wrong.
If Hollywood were to make a movie about your life, what actor would best portray you?
I always felt like there were similarities between Will Smith and myself. He’s goofy, I’m goofy. If anybody could play Andre Dirrell, it would be Will Smith.
We would also need a tough guy to play my brother Anthony because he’s got a very tough exterior.
If you could sit down to dinner with any four people in the history of the world, who is on the guest list?
Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, Will Smith and Bernie Mac. [Bernie was] a little blunt, but he’s funny as hell. He said things that I wouldn’t have the heart to say. Bernie had me cracking up. So, yeah, I would love to have him there.
If you had the power to change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I would have help centers or community hubs in every ghetto or project where the kids can go. It would be a resource for parents who need rides to jobs. You would be able to provide that if not help them get a job or assist them in obtaining bus passes.
You want a place for kids to go after they get out of school to go and complete their homework assignments on a computer that is there, or to play basketball or other sports. It would be a place where people can go to come up with solutions to problems in the community, how to make it better and to keep it clean.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: 2012 U.S. Olympian and undefeated 147-pound world title challenger Errol Spence Jr.