When Anthony Dirrell puts his zero on the line against Badou Jack in Chicago on Friday night, he’ll be looking to enhance a 27-0-1 (22 KOs) record that even the staunchest of unbeaten fighters can’t boast—one interrupted by a long layoff to fight cancer.
After that, two matches against Sakio Bika, as tough as he is, don’t seem so bad, now do they?
Catch our full coverage of Dirrell vs Jack as we count down to Saturday night.
3 vs. Andy Mavros, October 11, 2008, at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas
In 2006, Anthony Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stalling a 12-0 career for 18 months while he battled the rare form of lymphatic cancer. When he finally stepped back in the ring, it was against Andy Mavros, a 26-year-old prospect who had one loss in seven fights.
It didn’t start well. Mavros, whose 11-fight career was also sidelined by cancer, notched a knockdown, sending Dirrell to the mat in the first round. But Dirrell bounced back, earning a four-round decision that served as a springboard for his ring renaissance.
“That was one of the tougher fights that I had, given that I was coming back from cancer,” Dirrell said. “Just to be back, that meant a lot. The doubts that I had was whether or not I could go rounds, but I proved to myself that I could do that with that first fight back. It was good for me, and I told myself, ‘I’m back, and I can’t let up now.’”
2 vs. Sakio Bika, December 7, 2013, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York
Twice, Dirrell met up with Bika. And while he never lost to the pride of Cameroon, his first go-round didn’t go as expected. Dirrell pummeled Bika in the fifth round to knock The Scorpion down, but despite that, he still only managed a split draw.
Still, it served as a confidence booster, marking the first time he’d gone 12 rounds in his career.
“I proved in my first Bika fight that I could go the full 12 rounds, and that was a big accomplishment for me,” Dirrell said. “It made me smarter as a fighter. It was a draw, and even though I thought I won the fight, I don’t have a loss. I’m still undefeated, and I learned a lot from that fight.”
1 vs. Sakio Bika, August 16, 2014, at the StubHub Center in Carson, California
The rematch would see Dirrell fare better. Again, Bika took Dirrell the full 12 rounds, but this time, he’d emerge with a comfortable decision behind an attack that saw the orthodox fighter frequently turn southpaw.
But it wasn’t the win that was remarkable about this fight—it was the timing. A week earlier Daniel Jacobs stopped Jarrod Fletcher in Brooklyn, New York, to become the first champion who was also a cancer surviver. Seven days later, Dirrell made it 2-for-2.
“It definitely was big to become the second guy who had cancer to win a title in consecutive weeks after Danny. So that made it very special,” he said. “Most champions wouldn’t give you the rematch, but I think that I got it because [Bika] truly had doubts in his mind that I really beat him.
"I showed that my switch-hitting abilities can play a big factor, because if you switch up on somebody, that confuses them. I definitely think that I did that with Bika.”