12 Rounds With … Andre Dirrell

Super middleweight contender talks about his March 3 title rematch with Jose Uzecategui, adding veteran trainer Virgil Hunter and how 2004 Olympic teammate Andre Ward has helped mentor him.

Andre Dirrell

Andre Dirrell and Jose Uzcategui's first bout ended controversially when Uzcategui landed a punch after the bell ending the eighth round and Dirrell was unable to continue. (Tom Casino/Showtime)

Andre Dirrell can clearly analyze his controversial match against Jose Uzecategui now. He is 10 months removed and he has changed his corner, adding veteran trainer Virgil Hunter and is being mentored by his 2004 U.S. Olympic teammate, Andre Ward.

So it is with a different perspective and renewed confidence that Dirrell (26-2, 16 KOs) steps into the ring March 3 in a rematch against Uzecategui (26-2, 22 KOs) for the 168-pound interim title on the Showtime-televised undercard of the heavyweight title match between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

The 34-year-old Dirrell of Flint, Michigan has had two cracks at winning the 168-pound title, losing a split decision to Carl Froch in 2009 and unanimous decision to James DeGale in 2015.

Dirrell has been training with Hunter in Oakland and has been getting advice from Ward. Dirrell won a bronze medal when Ward won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“The way I feel about Andre is…the sky's the limit. He has the God-given ability and talent to do whatever he wants to do in a boxing ring. He is blessed with the kind of gifts that, if he's made up his mind that he won't allow himself to be beat, and if he prepares properly in camp, it's going to be very hard to beat him,” said Ward, who retired undefeated in 2017 as boxing’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.

“With a fighter with Andre's experience and pedigree, it's less physical and more psychological. Do you want to be a champion and do you want to dominate your division? If the answer is yes, then go do it. It sounds simple and in many ways it is, but you have to be very intentional to condition your mind to think this way and really believe it. That's the reason he is training with Virgil in the Bay Area.”

What changes have you made since your last fight?

I was in need of another corner after my uncle pulled the stunt that he did.  I know he was looking out for my best interest, but in my eyes, it wasn’t a good choice.

I knew I had to move on, and I knew Virgil would definitely bring out the boxing abilities that I possess. To be as efficient as I am here in Oakland is something very new in my game.

What are some of the nuances Virgil brings, and will your grandfather, Leon “Bumper” Lawson, remain in your corner?

Virgil is teaching me similarly to the way my grandfather taught me, and I can easily say that he’s picking up where my grandfather left off. My grandfather put my talents in me, making me the fighter Andre Ward had to worry about back in the day.

But my grandfather doesn’t have the ability to coach really any more because he’s in the beginning stages of dementia, but I still have him in my corner, and I always will. Virgil has taken over, and this is bar-none, the best I’ve felt, mentally, in my career. There are little things about Virgil that I had to adapt to.

Virgil’s sense of humor is raw, playful and serious at the same time. If I stop for one minute, he’ll tell me, “It takes one second to get knocked out.” He teaches with passion, direction and remains focused on the task at hand, really wanting you to instill how important things are, psychologically.

How beneficial is the atmosphere in Virgil’s gym?

There is a positive aura in the gym, which is a winning environment. When you walk into that gyam, it’s time to work. Virgil lets you know that simply by staring at you.

You have Andre Ward’s posters all around you and other fighters’ posters around you. There are a lot of fighters’ faces up on those gym walls, including Andre Berto’s.

I’m definitely inspired because the atmosphere has everything to offer as far as training. You have the mountains, the beaches.

Of course, ultimately, you have Virgil, who has a flair about him and a way to generate that fire within you and bring it out of you. The most important thing with Virgil is listening.

What counsel have you received from Ward?

Andre’s never really showed any hesitation about offering advice and has always been there to give it to me, no problem at all.  Andre has always been cordial and honest about wanting to see me hold that championship belt. I believe that he’ll see that this year.

But I can imagine that now that he’s out of the game, he can do it more freely. I recently had a 45-minute conversation over the phone with him about Jesus Christ, but, face-to-face, we’ve spoken quite often. He came down for a few of my sparring sessions and he’ll be coming to a few more.

We’ve always talked and had a good time, and he’s been quite an inspiration, aside from being a boxer. Andre has a confidence about himself in and out of the ring, so he’s one of the top guys in my life as a motivator for life outside of and beyond boxing.

This is the biggest fight of my career at this point. I feel like this is my world championship fight, and by winning, I can get a shot at Caleb Truax, or if he fights and loses to DeGale. But I’m not looking at Caleb or James right now. Uzecategui is my priority. Super Middleweight Contender Andre Dirrell

Has Virgil broken down the Uzecategui fight?

Virgil has watched the fight several times, and I’ve watched the fight several times. We both agreed that the mistakes were definitely all mine and both agree that I didn’t use my ring generalship.

Even with the flaws that I was committing, I still found my groove. I heard myself saying that I had gotten his timing down and was taking over leading up to the end of the fight.

Uzecategui is a fighter, but that’s it – he’s no boxer. He has great punching ability but not great skills and he’s not fast, so I expect him to attack me like the first fight. He knows how to put a one-two-three together, and he’s hungry.

That’s what I have to pay attention to. But as far as boxing goes, I’ll have to teach him a thing or two about how this game is really played. There’s no question I made the first fight harder than it had to be. I look at that first fight with so much confidence.

I know that I fought it incorrectly, but I was still coming back. He won the first, second and possibly third and fourth rounds, but I was coming back. So this time, I plan on frustrating this boy so much that he’ll be completely off of his game.

What happened after the bell ending the eighth round, and do you conclude that Uzecategui did it intentionally?

Yes, after the bell. I’ve watched the fight a thousand times, and the biggest thing I’ve taken from it is that after every bell, stand guard, because I can easily say that he attempted to strike me more than three times on occasions after the bell during that entire fight.

You saw it in his stance, his demeanor and his actions. When that bell would ring, he would throw a late punch, but sometimes, I would just be too far away. In the second round, he landed a punch clearly a second after the bell had already rung.

I couldn’t believe it watching it. But I’ve concluded that I’ve got to pay more attention heading back to that corner, and if I need to, I’ll use the referee. I’ll make sure to holler at him and get his attention and let him know what’s going on.

How important is this fight?

My window is small, at this point, and Virgil has really touched on and emphasized that. This is the biggest fight of my career at this point. I feel like this is my world championship fight, and by winning, I can get a shot at Caleb Truax, or if he fights and loses to DeGale, I can get that fight.

But I’m not looking at Caleb or James right now. Uzecategui is my priority. We’re focused on a game plan, technique, intensity, keeping my heart rate up and winning impressively. Uzecategui is in my way. If I’m gonna make something happen, then the time for me to make that happen is right now.

What will determine how long you continue fighting?

I’m climbing up the ladder towards climbing down. This fight, along with this victory, will be one step closer to my retirement. I plan on doing this for 2 ½ more years, maximum.

I don’t believe that I’ll be 37 years old doing this unless I get a huge fight, which I do want.  I know who that fight could possibly be against, but I won’t say who it is right now.

I do want a big fight, and this is a good opportunity to make that happen. I wanna win two belts in the next two years in the super middleweight division before making my exit.

What are your thought on fighting at Barclays, where your younger brother, Anthony, fought to a draw with Sakio Bika in December 2013?

I was there for that, and it’s a really nice arena that was jam-packed. Being on this card, I’m expected that it will be the same way.

I expect to be fighting in front of a tough crowd and putting on a great performance that this guy won’t be able to handle. I know for a fact that this will be a magnificent performance.

For a closer look at Andre Dirrell, check out his fighter page.

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