Detroit’s Kronk Gym is arguably boxing’s most well-known institution. Many champions, including Thomas Hearns and Michael Moorer, have trained and sparred there. However, Olympic Medalist Andre “The Matrix” Dirrell feels another Michigan town about 70 miles north of the Motor City deserves its due.
“It’s gotten to the point where no one will even spar with me down there,” says Andre, who has made many trips inside the bricked Detroit sweatbox. “Flint [Michigan] is on top of the charts right now.”
Last night at Michael’s 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie, Maryland, the 22-year-old super middleweight scored a 2nd round knockout over the shorter Jake ‘The Snake” Rodriguez (6-13-0), running his record to 3-0. Andre dropped Rodriguez in the first round and then finished him off in the second with a barrage of body and head shots.
“I believe I kept my jab out there and was able to do my thing,” says Andre. “It was an awkward fight with me being as tall as I was and he being short. I had to make a few adjustments.”
Andre started boxing when he was ten years old for reasons that are all too familiar among fighters. “Me and my brother were a little wild in the streets. Momma had six kids and we were all a year apart and it was hard to handle,” he says. So his grandfather, Leon “Bumper” Lawson, got Andre and Anthony, his younger brother by a little more than a year, into the gym.
They moved in with Bumper when Andre was thirteen, but are still close with their mother. “I take nothing away from Momma,” says Andre. “She gave him [Bumper] the privilege to take over and we grew a love for the sport.”
Andre’s love for boxing has been a reciprocal relationship so far. His amateur career of 236 fights, six national titles in four weight classes, and international tournaments in countries like Cuba, England, Germany, and the Ukraine, culminated with a trip to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
In Athens, Andre won his first three fights before losing on points in the semifinals to Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan. He left Athens with a Bronze Medal, ready to make the transition into his professional career. “It’s a lot of strategy in Olympic amateur boxing,” says Andre. “Professionally, you just have to take it to the guy to win the fight.”
Andre scored a 4th round TKO over Carlos Jones in his first professional bout on January 27th. He knocked out Walter Coles in the first round in Atlanta just two weeks later in a fight that was featured on the undercard of the Laila Ali/Cassandra Geigger bout on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
His brother, Anthony “The Dog” Dirrell, also a super middleweight, turned professional with Andre and the two have fought their first three bouts on the same card. Last night, he scored a 2nd round TKO over Larry Brothers (5-14-2). “I was real confident about the fight going into it,” says Anthony. “I used my combinations, switched up on the guy confusing him a little a bit.” Anthony used a left hook to put Brothers on the canvas in the first round. In the second, he fired a hard right cross that forced Brothers’ manager to throw in the towel. Anthony punctuated his victory with a back flip.
The hard-punching Anthony is now 3-0 as well and none of his fights have gone the distance. “He [Anthony] likes to brawl up to the point where he could tire himself out in the later rounds,” says Andre. “If a dude brings it, he’s going to bring it. And that’s usually me too, but I like to take my time and pick my shots.”
Having both Dirrells on the same card has proven to have drawing power and is something they both hope to continue. “After that Laila Ali fight, when we were both on the same card, we pretty much took the show because everyone knew our name after that,” says Andre.
The Dirrell brothers will continue fighting on the same card until one of them fights for a title belt. Andre plans on that being around 13th or 14th fight but is already saying he cannot wait to get a hold of IBF super middleweight champion Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy, another highly touted middleweight contender. “If I was in 12-round shape, I’d take out Jermain [Taylor] right now,” he says.
Whatever success comes towards Andre’s or Anthony’s way, they owe a lot of it to Bumper. They clearly realize that as both of them have Bumper’s face tattooed on their backs. “He’s ridden our backs our whole life,” says Andre. “He’s kept us on the right track. We didn’t have a father figure and so he was our father figure and we always looked up to him.”
“Me and my brother went to his house at nine and ten [years old] and it’s been a success from there,” says Anthony. “He’s a good grandfather, coach, manager and dad.”
Bumper has trained several members of the Dirrell family but has experienced the most success with Andre and Anthony. Bumper currently serves as Andre’s and Anthony’s manager because, as Andre wisely says, “You’re always ahead of the game as long as you don’t sign any papers.”
Andre is also one step ahead of the game in giving back to the town he says is on top of the charts. “The last [business] meeting we had, we started thinking about the name of a rec center, youth center, for the kids,” says Andre.
If the Dirrell brothers keep running up wins like tonight’s, it will not take them long to help out their hometown, which they say is poorly portrayed across the country. “They only see the negative of Flint because don’t too many people come out of the limelight in Flint and that’s what we gotta do is get ‘em out there.”
In the main event, super middleweight Henry “Sugar Poo” Buchanan scored a 6th round TKO over Julio Jean (5-5-1), improving his record to 9-0. On the undercard, Reggie “The Mechanic” Holly scored a unanimous decision over the fittingly name “Terrible” Terrance Watson (0-3-0) in a welterweight bout.