The beauty of being Andre Dirrell is you don’t know what you don’t know. Tonight he’s about to find out.
Whether the lesson is a harsh one or not remains to be seen, but the likelihood that it will not be seems slim because the 27-year-old former Olympic bronze medalist has not only never faced anyone the caliber of WBC super middleweight champion Carl Froch, who he’s about to square off with in Froch’s hometown of Nottingham, England in the first round of the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament created and televised by SHOWTIME, but truth be told Dirrell hasn’t faced anyone of the quality of some of the undefeated Froch’s 25 victims, either.
That is a resume deficit that most often proves dangerously daunting at some point, although if Dirrell, who calls himself ‘The Matrix’ for reasons not totally understandable, possesses special gifts this lack of adequate preparation may be something he can overcome. But if he does not, there will come a moment in Nottingham when he will wish he was anywhere but in Nottingham.
Froch is far from a terribly gifted fighter but he is something Dirrell (18-0, 13 KO) has not had the opportunity to become. He is a professional, a word under-used and under-appreciated these days in boxing.
What that means is Froch has been forced to learn his dark trade the way it was meant to be learned, one elevated opponent after the next. To lay claim to the WBC title he had to defeat Jean Pascal, who will certainly never be mistaken for Archie Moore or Bob Foster, but is still the reigning WBC light heavyweight champion. He came to America and got off the floor to knock out former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor with 14 seconds left in a fight he was losing on two scorecards but winning round by methodical round inside the ring, where he forced Taylor to implode from the nature of the relentless pressure he put on him.
Dirrell has never experienced anything like the oxygen deficit that comes under such duress. He has no idea what that kind of pressure can feel like. Soon he will learn but it would have been far better for him had he tasted more of it before he ever got here.
Dirrell is all about speed and flash, only occasionally sitting down on his punches and doing business in the way Froch (25-0, 20 KO) likes to do it. He has no idea how spent you can feel after six, eight, ten rounds of a gritty opponent refusing to bend to your wishes or how confusing it can be to suddenly realize not everyone will simply concede the point to you because you’ve hit them a few times.
Carl Froch is one of those bent-nosed guys who is more than he appears to be. He is not possessed of the stuff of legends but he is what counts most these days in boxing. He is a professional.
“I'm a consummate professional,” Froch said this week. “I've been in the trenches more than once and I've come out on top. I'm an undefeated professional with an excellent knockout ratio. He knows he's in deep water on Saturday night.’’
More than likely, Dirrell knows no such thing, which is part of the problem. He has never been in a situation analogous to the one he is about to face and so assumes this is a night like 18 others – a coronation. It is, he thinks, to be a night where he will get away with his obsession with shifting from orthodox style to southpaw again and again and again, a move that makes him vulnerable if Froch can time the shift and catch him between the two stances. If that doesn’t happen at some point I will be stunningly surprised. If it does, Dirrell will be stunningly surprised at what follows.
“He knows that once I start connecting with the bombs he’s going to be in serious trouble,’’ Froch said at the final press conference earlier in the week. “I’ve got a feeling he’s going to run and run scared but it’s twelve by three minutes rounds and I will catch up with him and when I do I’m going to do some serious damage. You all know the script. You know what’s coming. I bring it every time and I’ll be bringing it Saturday night.
“I’ve proved that time and time again. I’ve fought top quality opposition throughout my career and made short work of 80% of them. Andre Dirrell certainly talks a good fight but 25 of my previous opponents also talked a lot of trash and it didn’t get them anywhere. Talk is cheap. I’m not going to get involved in a slanging match. The fists are going to do the talking on the night.”
Dirrell has no problem with that at the moment because he believes his fists are faster and will cause the pedestrian looking Froch to marvel at what he can do with them. But speed is only an asset if you can harness it. It is only an ally if you use it to set up your opponent, creating traps that open him up for assault.
Speed unchecked or unfocused means little in boxing because a fight is not a track meet. It is a lethal chess match, an exercise in give and take that Dirrell has never experienced on the level he will in Nottingham.
“He’s a hell of a fighter but I will make short work of him,’’ Dirrell said. “I’ll prove I’m the superior being.’’
The superior being? This kid has been watching too many re-runs of “The Matrix.’’ What he should have been watching was re-runs of Froch’s greatest hits, of which there have been plenty. The way he dismantled both Pascal and Taylor was a video lesson on what it means to be a professional prize fighter. It was about proving you are the superior being rather than simply talking like one.
“It’s the same for all these guys, Pascal, Taylor and Dirrell,’’ said former British champion Robert McCracken, who trains Froch. “They watch Carl on tape and think, ‘I can do this or that with him’ but once the fight starts they realize how awkward he is and how hard he hits. It’s a different ballgame.
“Dirrell’s a good kid, a good talent, but he’s not fought anybody anywhere near the class of Carl. He isn’t ready, it’s that simple.’’
Dirrell has heard a lot of that ever since he and equally untested American Andre Ward (20-0, 13 KO) were included in the tournament while more seasoned fighters like Lucian Bute, Sakio Bika, Allan Green and Librado Andrade were left out. He has understandably grown weary hearing the doubts of others, doubts he does not himself possess.
Now his chance is in front of him to prove he is who he thinks he is…assuming it’s really a chance at all.
“I've been working hard my whole life, but I put in the extra 10 yards for this camp so that I could come here and do what I've been dreaming of for 16 years, and that's to bring back the WBC title,’’ he said. “When I get finished with Froch he'll have a look in his eyes as vacant as the title he won when Joe Calzaghe gave it up rather than waste his time with such a trivial defense.”
Maybe so…but what’s more likely is that the vacant look will belong to someone else. Someone who has never been anywhere near the position he’s going to find himself in Saturday night – in the ring with a professional for the first time in his life.
“Maybe he's coming over here super confident and I'm sure he will be right up until the first bell but as soon as I start connecting with those ten ounce gloves he'll start to realize he's in there with a proven, strong, warrior and that he's a long way from home,” Froch said.
Indeed we will. Indeed we will.