Anthony Dirrell was confident of winning his first 168-pound championship defense last April against Badou Jack, a man who was two bouts removed from a 61-second stoppage loss to unheralded Derek Edwards.
Lending credence to the 31-year-old Dirrell’s assertion that “this fight is going to end in a knockout” was the fact that Edwards followed up his upset of Jack by losing his very next fight by near shutout unanimous decision to Dirrell’s 32-year-old brother, Andre.
But critical in a majority decision defeat that cost Anthony Dirrell his title was Jack’s momentum-stealing second-round jab to the body, which was preceded by a head-swiveling right. “The Ripper” sustained control from there, matching and eventually surpassing the intensity of Dirrell’s jab and often following up with right hands.
Dirrell (28-1-1, 22 KOs) held his title for eight months following a unanimous decision over then-champion Sakio Bika in August 2014. Eight months earlier, the two fighters battled to a draw, a result that ended Dirrell’s run of 10 knockouts in his previous 11 fights.
“Anthony didn’t throw enough punches and got away from his jab in the Jack fight,” says Dirrell’s coach, Javan “Sugar” Hill Steward, nephew of the late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward. “Anthony had been a knockout fighter, and when you’re into that, you can sometimes forget about your jab.”
Says Dirrell: “Everybody has bad days, and the Badou Jack fight was one of mine. I came in flat.
“He got the victory, and I can’t dwell on the past. I’ve moved on, because I really needed to show people that it wasn’t me in that fight.”
Dirrell did indeed look like his old self in September, winning all 10 rounds on all three scorecards against former 160- and 168-pound champion Marco Antonio Rubio. Dirrell will be looking for a similarly dominant performance Friday against Caleb Truax (26-2-2, 16 KOs) at Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
“In the Rubio fight, Anthony’s jabbing and combination punching were better,” Steward says. “Anthony returned to doing all of those things he had done in order to win the championship, so he’s got to maintain that in his fight plan moving forward.”
In Truax, Dirrell will be facing a 32-year-old who has spent most of his nine-year pro career competing at 168 pounds. However, in his last two contests, the lifelong resident of Osseo, Minnesota, fought at 160.
Those two bouts ended with mixed results, as Truax suffered a 12th-round TKO loss to 160-pound champion Daniel Jacobs last April in Truax’s first world title fight, followed by a fourth-round TKO win over Melvin Betancourt in February.
While Truax figures to offer more of a challenge to Dirrell than Rubio, the former champ will enter the contest as a considerable favorite. But that doesn’t mean the Flint, Michigan, native views Truax as a walkover.
“I’m definitely not looking beyond this next guy,” Dirrell says. “He’s a warrior, but I’m looking to get him outta there so I can continue to prove to the world that I’m a true champion.”
Dirrell will be fighting a day prior to Saturday’s 168-pound championship doubleheader in which Jack (20-1-1, 12 KOs) and James DeGale (22-1, 14 KOs) will defend their belts against former titleholder Lucian Bute (32-3, 25 KOs) and Rogelio Medina (36-6, 30 KOs), respectively, at the DC Armory in Washington, D.C.
Although the winners of those two bouts are compelled to fight one another in a 168-pound unification contest, Dirrell knows he could be next in line if he takes care of business Friday night. But he also understands the consequences if he slips up against Truax.
“I have to focus on myself and my next opponent, but I know what I’m capable of doing to any of those guys,” Dirrell says. “I definitely want my rematch with Jack, but whether he’s champion or not, I’m looking toward the future. I know I’m going to be winning another title soon.”
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