BOSTON — For a Beantown fight card that seemed to come straight out of left field, it was appropriate that during fight week for the televised PBC on NBC co-promotion between DiBella Entertainment and Murphy’s Boxing, the final press conference was held on Thursday afternoon in the left field grandstand of Fenway Park, right by the world famous Green Monster.
All the key participants were in attendance, including main eventers Andre “The Resurrected” Dirrell, 24-1, 16 KOs, and James “Chunky” DeGale, 20-1, 14 KOs.
Both world-class super middleweights traveled long and far to take their respective places face to face for the international boxing media.
Dirrell, sporting a Muhammad Ali T-shirt and a smile as wide as the Charles River, strode into Fenway Park like he owned it, eager to please, with brother Anthony by his side in a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. The Dirrells are from Michigan but both were honorary Bostonians on this day; in fact, it was Andre who threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday night when the Boston Red Sox took on the Texas Rangers at home.
DeGale, a 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist from Great Britain, gladly played the role of visiting team. “I’m a switch hitter, predominantly a southpaw but I can mix it up. I can do everything,” DeGale told me of his boxing style. “I’ve loved it here in Boston. I feel very welcomed,” he said of his short time in the city.
It was a long and brutal winter in New England and Boston doesn’t get to host very many championship fights these days. People in the area who love the fight game are understandably excited. The giant piles of snow are gone. The boys are back and they’re looking for trouble. “Be there or miss the eff out,” is how Dirrell put it bluntly during his time at the podium on Thursday at Fenway Park.
The last locally held world title tilt was all the way back in 2006 at the Boston Garden when British invader Ricky Hatton defeated New Yorker Luis Collazo in a “Hatton Wonderland” for the WBA welterweight title. Fans left happy with the action but upset with the decision in favor of Hatton.
“There’s a lot of tension when you’re right there next to your opponent,” Dirrell said of his posed encounters with DeGale for the press. If there was tension in the air between Dirrell and DeGale, it was hidden from everybody else by the beautiful spring weather and festive atmosphere that permeated the ball park presser and the weigh-in at nearby Faneuil Hall. As the Friday afternoon sun beat down on the historic public courtyard, that level of tension began to slowly heat up. By the time they hit the scales to make weight, that tension was in full bloom. Forehead to forehead, Dirrell and DeGale jaw-jacked back and forth for a large crowd of primarily pro-DeGale British fans before being separated and sent off to go have a well-earned bite to eat. Known for having some of the best food available in all of Boston, Faneuil Hall was an ironically appropriate place for these hungry boxers to weigh in.
Weights & Quotes:
Andre Dirrell (24-1, 16 KOs, Flint, Michigan, 167.8 lbs.): “I’ve learned to love, respect, and honor my sport. I love boxing. I go to the gym and I go into my pocket. I pull out the pain and I pay it forward. Now I want my receipt. Boston is a hardware store. The Agganis Arena is a hardware store. On Saturday, I’m gonna pick up my hardware. I want the IBF belt more than ever. It’s all I care about but I’m showing how important the fight is to us even if the title wasn’t on the line. I’m just adding the bonus material to the belt. I’m very happy to be fighting for the IBF title, but regardless of the belt or not, we have a championship fight. I’m a world class fighter and this is a world class sport. I’ve been through hell and back and I’m just ready to go see the ring. It’s ass-kicking time in that ring but outside, it’s all love.”
James DeGale (20-1, 14 KOs, London, England, 167.2 lbs.): “How can Dirrell go from fighting people like Derek Edwards and Vladine Biosse to step up to somebody like me who just knocked out Marco Antonio Periban and Brandon Gonzalez, a confident American trained by Virgil Hunter? That’s a bit of a jump, isn’t it? My last two performance speak for themselves. When Dirrell is on top, he’s very confident. If you give him too much space, that’s when he comes on as a fighter. I’m not going to let him rest. I’m not too sure he’s got the heart when it gets hard in there. All his attributes, the speed, the angles, his feet; I match him in all that. I’m actually intrigued myself about how good he is and how hard it’s going to be to beat him. After I win this title, I’m willing to fight anybody. I make 168 extremely easily but I’m kinda big for the weight. Eventually I will move up to light heavyweight.”
DeGale on rival George Groves: “A lot of people thought I won the Groves fight. The Americans thought I won. Groves is a pussy(cat). He doesn’t want a rematch with me. They offered him two million pounds for the fight, and he doesn’t want it.”
DeGale on Carl Froch: “He’s coming off his best win against Groves in front of eighty thousand people at Wembley Stadium but he’s getting old. He’s not the force he once was, trust me. He vacated his world title to not have to fight me. No way he’s gonna fight a young gun coming up.”
DeGale on the recent Gennady Golovkin vs. Froch talk: “It ain’t gonna happen. I think Froch is gonna retire.”
DeGale on the just announced George Groves vs. Badou Jack title fight: “Groves should win that. Jack is not very good. I’m hoping for Groves to win the WBC title and me the IBF, then next summer, a unification rematch which in UK which would be massive.”
Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez (26-1, 17 KOs, Worcester, MA., 176 lbs.): “Right now, I’m focused on Craig Baker. He is undefeated and he is hungry. In 2005, I lost a decision to Adonis Stevenson in the amateurs during a USA vs. Canada duel. Then back when he turned professional, I went out to help him get ready for one of his fights by sparring with him. There’s no denying that he’s a big puncher. That’s who I want in the future.”
Craig Baker (16-0, 12 KOs, Baytown, TX., 175.6 lbs.): “Before I started boxing, I was a 296 pound offensive lineman for Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown. When I first walked into the boxing gym I was a borderline diabetic. I got into boxing to lose all the weight and I saw results. By my first pro fight in 2008, I was down to 199 pounds.”
Danny O’Connor (25-2, 9 KOs, Framingham, MA., 147.4 lbs.): “I’m always happy to fight at home in front of my fans. Chris Gilbert will try to use his brute and I’m going to use my brain. I’m a versatile fighter who can handle any situation that may arise. I’m happy that Gilbert, a kid from Vermont, can have this opportunity as well. When the Malignaggi fight fell off, it wasn’t real anymore, so Paulie who? He’s not even on my mind. I’m concentrating on Chris Gilbert.”
Chris Gilbert (12-1, 9 KOs, Windsor, VT., 146 lbs.): “I just fought two weeks ago in my hometown. I hit the guy with a liver shot in the first round. We expected a good eight out of him but I caught him, his face turned beet red, he spit out the mouthpiece, and that was it. I’m excited to be on this card and to fight Danny O’Connor. I always train to win every fight and this is another one where I’m coming in very strong and confident.”
Ryan “The Polish Prince” Kielczewski (22-1, 6 KOs, Quincy, MA., 127.6 lbs.): “I’m excited to get back in the ring after the loss to Danny Aquino on ESPN Friday Night Fights last month. I thought I pulled out a close victory but the judges saw it the opposite way. I basically had to lose too much weight. I was done after two rounds. I’d like to get Aquino again at 126 pounds. I don’t know much about my opponent Anthony Napunyi. He’s awkward, he’s wild, and as soon as I figure him out I should have no problem with him.”
Undercard Weights: Heavyweights, Danny Kelly (239.8) vs. Curtis Lee Tate (229.4); Middleweights, Immanuwel Aleem (159.2) vs. David Toribio (159.6); Junior Featherweights, Jonathon Guzman (124) vs. Christian Esquivel (123.2); Light Heavyweights, Edwin Espinal (171) vs. Alvaro Enriquez (170.4); Middleweights, Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan (159.6) vs. Melvin Betancourt (159.6); Ryan Kielczewski (127.6) vs. Anthony Napunyi (125.4); Super Featherweights, Logan McGuiness (136.8) vs. Gerardo Cuevas (143); Bantamweights, Antonio Russell (117.2) vs. Brandon Garvin (118.6).
PBC on NBC airs at 4:30 PM EST from the Agganis Arena on the campus of Boston University. Doors open at 1:30 PM EST. Tickets are still available on www.Ticketmaster.com Look for undercard fights to be aired on NBC Sports Network following the NBC telecast.