Dirrell vs. Yildirim: Will the Dog Have His Day?

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Anthony “The Dog” Dirrell may end up in a dogfight versus hard-hitting Avni Yildirim of Turkey when they throw down tomorrow on PBC on FS1.

Anthony “The Dog” Dirrell got a brief taste of world championship glory back in 2014. He’s been itching for more ever since.

This Saturday, February 23, Dirrell will get a shot at reclaiming the same super middleweight belt that slipped through his fingers five long years ago. In the main event from The Armory in Minneapolis, Minnesota, no. 1 ranked Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KOs) takes on no. 2 ranked Avni Yildirim (21-1, 12 KOs) for the vacant WBC 168-pound world.

Televised coverage for this PBC on FS1 and FOX Deportes show begins at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, with hometown Minneapolis welterweight contender Jamal James meeting Janer Gonzalez in a ten-round co-feature.

There’s absolutely no denying the character of the 34-year-old Dirrell, who has come back from a 2006 battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and from a serious motorcycle accident in 2012 that shattered his left leg and fractured his left wrist. Surviving cancer and a career-threatening injury puts Dirrell into an elite class of athletes who’ve looked death in the eye and managed to not only survive but thrive at the top of their game.

Dirrell hit his stride as a pro after coming back from the motorcycle accident, beating Sakio Bika in 2014 for the vacant WBC title eight months after drawing with the veteran from Cameroon in his first bid for the belt. Unfortunately, the Flint, Michigan native would lose the belt in his first defense to Badou Jack via a razor-thin majority decision.

Since the Jack loss, though, Dirrell has been perfect, blowing past the durable Caleb Truax in one round in 2016 and dominating Marco Antonio Rubio, Dennis Douglin, and Abraham Han during a 5-0 run.

Stylistically, “The Dog” is as tenacious as his nickname suggests. Whereas older brother Andre is a slick stylist looking to work around opposition and touch them up with point-scoring shots, Anthony is all about beating people up.

Dirrell prefers to come forward, stalking movers and busting up those who choose to stay and engage. His biggest weapon may be a heavy right hand that he can deliver with power from any direction, but pretty much everything he throws, with either hand, is solid and brought with bad intent.

On paper, this Saturday’s matchup against Yildirim would appear to be right in Dirrell’s comfort zone, pitting him against another come-forward battler in what would appear to be a bout full of trench warfare.  

"I saw him fight Chris Eubank and it showed me some things,” Dirrell said. “He's a come forward fighter. That's the kind of guy I like to fight. He's tailor-made for me. I'm going to do what I do best and that's fight.”

The 27-year-old Yildirim, however, might be just as happy for a favorable matchup against Dirrell.

Looking to be the first Turkish world boxing champ, the Istanbul native would become a folk hero at home if he pulls off the big win on Saturday.

As a fighter, there’s not much finesse to Yildirim’s game. Sporting a high-guard defense, he likes to come forward and crowd foes, getting under shots and then firing back with arcing punches from the left and right.

Yildirim’s nickname of “Mr. Robot” most likely refers to his unflappable nature and efficient execution in the ring. But it could just as well refer to an almost single-minded offensive strategy that delivers constant pressure to opposition. There’s no explosive element in his game, but there is a constant march forward that tires, bends, and sometimes breaks those put in front of him.

In 2017, however, Yildirim was blown away by Chris Eubank Jr. in his only real test at the world class level. The third-round KO spotlighted his deficiencies as a fighter. For all his work and recent move to train in American gyms, he still struggles mightily with hand speed and superior athleticism. And, as someone who likes to fight at a measured, controlled pace, the proverbial wheels seem to fall off the cart when things get fast and chaotic in the ring.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic this Saturday against someone in Dirrell who will be right there in front of him and who, on occasion, has shown a tendency to be lulled into long stretches of inactivity by opponents who move their hands and/or show some defensive proficiency.

"I'm very thankful to everyone who helped me get this opportunity and I know that I have all the tools to beat Anthony Dirrell," said Yildirim. "Dirrell is a good fighter, but I believe I bring more to the table than him. I'm coming to win and bring the belt home to Turkey. I waited all my boxing life for this stage and I am ready to give him a war."

There should be no mystery regarding the key to victory in this super middleweight championship clash. Dirrell will have to get to Yildirim before Yildirim gets to Dirrell. Both fighters will be there to be touched and the victor will be the one who can do so more efficiently and effectively.

Given Dirrell’s edge in hand speed, power, and elite-level experience, this should be his fight to win or lose. A crouched, forward-moving Yildirim is especially vulnerable to the uppercut, so look for that punch to play a big part in Dirrell’s offensive strategy.

But, it would be a mistake to underestimate the drive of a young, hungry fighter like Yildirim, carrying a nation’s pride into the ring with him.

Then again, Dirrell has, literally, stared death in the face twice and is still here to tell the tales.

For a closer look at Dirrell vs Yildirim, check out our fight night page. 

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