Andre Dirrell hoping to fly high with help from former champion Chris Byrd

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The union of Andre Dirrell and Chris Byrd is as natural as it seemed inevitable.

Andre Dirrell

Andre Dirrell, right, has been working with former two-time heavyweight champion Chris Byrd as he prepares to fight James DeGale in Boston on May 23.

Andre Dirrell started boxing as an 8-year-old at the Joe Byrd Boxing Academy owned by Byrd’s father in their native Flint, Michigan. At that point, Byrd was about to begin a pro career in which he twice won a heavyweight world title.

“My first competitive fight was at that gym, so as a kid, I watched Chris,” Dirrell says. “One thing I noticed, even then, was that I really liked his style of fighting. We had a pretty good relationship in the beginning years which has led to the relationship that we have now.”

Byrd will be in Dirrell’s corner for the third straight bout when the latter faces fellow southpaw James DeGale (20-1, 14 KOs) in a 168-pound championship fight at Boston’s Agganis Arena on May 23 as the Premier Boxing Champions series returns to NBC at 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. ET.

Byrd, 44, retired in 2009 with a record of 41-5-1 and 22 knockouts. During his lengthy career, he defeated notables such as Vitali Klitschko, David Tua, Evander Holyfield and Jameel McCline, and lost twice to Wladimir Klitschko.

Byrd now is an assistant to Dirrell’s grandfather and career-long trainer, Leon “Bumper” Lawson. During Dirrell’s victory over Derek Edwards in Quebec City in December, Byrd worked in the fighter’s corner after Lawson was stopped at the Canadian border and not allowed to enter the country.

Besides their shared ties to Flint, Byrd and Dirrell have another commonality: Both won Olympic medals competing for the United States—Byrd earned a silver in 1992, while Dirrell took home bronze in 2004. Now Dirrell is trying to join Byrd as a professional world champion.

“I watched Andre grow up as an amateur. In addition to being from the same city and similar backgrounds, he has so many similar characteristics to me in the ring that I understand his style, his mentality and certain things that he can do," Byrd says.

"Andre has told me, ‘Chris, I know that I’m good. I know that I can fight. But with our similar styles and your experience, you can just give me that extra edge and that little tweak in my game. You just have that eye for strategy with opponents.’ I love being in his corner because it’s like it’s me fighting again.”

Byrd knows firsthand how good Dirrell (24-1, 16 KOs) can be, having swapped leather with the 31-year-old fighter.

“We went some rounds the last two camps. The kid’s boxing IQ is ridiculous,” Byrd says. “He proved that he’s faster than me and has a combination of speed, power, smarts and moves to go with it. He made me realize how old I was.

"He can outthink you and has so much confidence in his skill set. He can make you miss and make you pay. He can shut down a puncher. He carries a chip on his shoulder and truly believes nobody can beat him."

Dirrell agrees.

“I’m more in tune with my hands and my feet. I’ve settled down,” he says. “I wanted more ring generalship, and working with Chris, you’ll see that when I capitalize on every mistake DeGale makes.”

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