(The fateful moment between Abraham and Dirrell?)
This is Super depressing.
The Super Six lost another member of its original lineup Thursday when Andre Dirrell pulled out of the super middleweight tourney, citing an injury. When after his savage knockout loss the tournament lost Jermain Taylor, who never should have been there to begin with, it survived. When the tournament lost Mikkel Kessler due to his own cited injury, skepticism mounted. With Dirrell out now, this is the Super Six tournament in name only. You can’t lose half your original lineup and say it’s the same event. What’s left now, best-case scenario, assuming there aren’t yet more disasters, are a handful of good fights — Arthur Abraham-Carl Froch, Allan Green-Glen Johnson, Andre Ward-somebody, and whoever meets in the semifinals and finals — along with the memories of some good, intriguing bouts and compelling stories, as well as the gratitude of most boxing fans to Showtime for its herculean effort for making it even this far with so ambitious an idea.
For Dirrell, the story is far more dire, one way or the other. The automatic reaction to him dropping out of the tournament from many fans was that he was a coward faker or at best too much of a gentelman and not enough of a professional because he hoped to avoid fighting his friend Ward next. If this injury is an excuse, and there is justifiable cause for skepticism of the injury, then Dirrell joins the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Andre Berto and David Haye as the most despised figure in the sport. Indeed, from the reaction out there so far, the damage is done to his reputation. If it’s the other — that he has a severe, worrisome neurological problem that threatens his entire career, as his team maintains — then Dirrell becomes a gifted fighter cut down before he even maximized his potential by that terrible disqualifying foul by Abraham, the flush cheap shot issued a March night in Detroit after Dirrell slipped to the canvas.
It’s too bad about the Super Six tournament coming to this. It was by far the best thing going in a lackluster 2010, even with some of its woes, like Kessler’s departure and the postponement of Ward-Dirrell and Abraham-Froch over locations, dates and so forth. I wager this will be the last time in a while anyone tries a round-robin tournament, which was central in many ways to the tournament happening at all. A one-and-done tournament doesn’t give fighters a chance to redeem themselves against top competition after a loss, nor, relatedly does it guarantee them (and their promoters) the ability to bounce back with another guaranteed big-money fight that they might not otherwise get if a television network held a recent loss against them.
Emotionally, the Super Six as originally conceived is effectively over for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the fruits of its labors, nor that I won’t appreciate what comes next. We got any number of dramatic fights and we learned a lot about the fighters, like that Ward is the real deal and that Kessler has more fighting heart than we gave him credit for having. We got one excellent action fight out of it, that being Kessler-Ward. And, with contractual obligations being what they are, I expect we’ll see what’s left of the tournament go to its completion, which means, as I mentioned earlier, a few more compelling fights in one of boxing’s most stacked divisions. Maybe it would be better in some ways to call a halt to this, but overall I say screw that — I especially want to watch Abraham-Froch in November, and if things go as I expect them to, Ward-Abraham. Besides, it’s never as though I bought into the tourney’s hype that it would produce one clear champion; they hurt their chances of that when they left out Lucian Bute. All I really wanted was the best fighting the best, and we’ve gotten that, for the most part, and we’re going to get more of it if the current course holds. It’s hard not to wonder whether the current course will hold, unfortunately. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more Super Six boxers come up injured in the near future.
Dirrell is the more immediate topic of discussion. (To me, Ward is 100 percent blameless, no matter how you look at it; he’s not the one who pulled out of the fight, and any ire directed at him is without basis.)
Dirrell started off on the wrong foot with boxing fans with his horrendous bout against Curtis Stevens on HBO, where he ran and ran and ran and barely did anything other than enough to win. I know I wasn’t a Dirrell fan after that one. He rehabilitated himself some with some exciting performances on Showtime, but by the first round of the Super Six tourney, he was back in fans’ doghouse because many disliked his performance against Froch (I was one of the few who appreciated it). Then there was the back injury that some found dubious; the fight with Abraham was going to be in California, where the Armenian population would have cheered Abraham on, and the subsequent switch to Dirrell’s home state of Michigan stood to benefit him with crowd support and other potential home-cookin’.
Instead, Dirrell put on a tremendous, revelatory performance that was marred by Abraham’s DQ. There are people who still think Dirrell was faking it when he laid there on the canvas, convulsing, from a flush, short power shot from one of boxing’s biggest pound-for-pound punchers. I think those people have especially productive imaginations, but combined with some of Dirrell’s other question marks, it explains why so many people rushed to the conclusion that he was faking this injury, too. If there’s a pattern of cowardice, perceived or real, people are going to be quick to fit any new unexplained behavior into that perception, and when Showtime made its announcement, Dirrell’s injury remained unexplained by his side for a good half-hour.
There are other reasons to be dubious. There was the prolonged stretch leading up to the scheduled September fight between Ward and Dirrell where no fight location had been picked, neither fighter was training and nobody would explain why. That prompted rumors that Dirrell and/or Ward were having second thoughts about fighting each other, that their allegiance to one another as long-time friends was superceding their contractual obligation to fight one another that they signed up for the day the tournament began. After Showtime sent some legal papers their way, the fight got postponed and rescheduled for Nov. 27, but there still was no location selected. Today, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported on Twitter that he’d been told this was more about money for Dirrell than any injury. And, mysteriously, one of the sanctioning organizations that was going to give a belt to the winner of Ward-Dirrell changed their mind without explanation this week and decided to award it to the winner of Abraham-Froch instead. Dirrell’s affiliation with manager Al Haymon, a boxing figure viewed as a Satanic hellbeast by fans these days because of several of his fighters’ tendencies to end up in easy money bouts — something that Ward-Dirrell most certainly was not — prompted yet more skepticism of Dirrell’s motives.
The most troubling of the reasons to be skeptical as far as I’m concerned is that it’s pretty weird that Dirrell’s fight with Abraham was in March, and Dirrell and his team gave every indication that he had recovered, and only now is this injury leading to him withdrawing from the tournament? The original article expired, but as I wrote shortly after the Abraham fight, Dirrell tested negative for any long-term problems.
Really, there are reasons to be generous to Dirrell too, though. His promoter, Gary Shaw, pointed out that Dirrell could have made a lot of money winning the tournament, which is true. It’s hard for me to imagine, even with Haymon in his corner, how he makes better money pulling out of the tournament with a fake injury that makes everyone hate him, because I don’t think even Haymon has managed a miracle like that. Furthermore, Dirrell’s family said the injury is career-threatening, and their account of his symptoms since then are extensively detailed. If Dirrell never fights again, will the people calling Dirrell a “coward” feel bad about jumping to that conclusion so quickly? It’s not far-fetched at all to me that the kind of illegal shot Dirrell took from Abraham could lead to serious, long-term damage, especially if you look at Dirrell’s leg twitch and confused remarks that night as authentic, and I do. It’s also possible that the reason everything about Ward-Dirrell was so mysterious was because they hoped to keep this quiet while they prayed it would go away, or maybe there’s some medical reason Dirrell tested out OK originally and problems later surfaced.
Ultimately, I can’t bring myself to draw any conclusion here because I’m not a doctor. And we still don’t know the whole story. It would be nice to get it. If Showtime were to press its case in court on the grounds of Dirrell’s contractual obligation — assuming they’re as skeptical of Dirrell’s injury as they’re acting, holding a news conference where they refer questions about Dirrell’s injury to his team, rather than the way they handled Kessler’s injury — maybe we could find out more, and I couldn’t blame them if they took that route.
The only thing I know for sure: This is all deeply disappointing.