Quiet Man Hug: Andre Dirrell Vs. Curtis Stevens

June 16, 2007, Uncasville, CT

Lou DiBella, who promotes Stevens, had promotional options on Dirrell in the event that he won. But DiBella was so disgusted by the way Dirrell fought, he doesn’t plan to pick up the option and said he doesn’t want to ever have Dirrell on one of his cards again. – Dan Rafael, June 19, 2007

The “fight” between Andre Dirrell and Curtis Stevens is infamous among fight fans the way that Manos: Hands of Fate and Uwe Boll flicks are among movie buffs, the way Starship albums and Kevin Federline’s Playing with Fire are among music lovers, the way Red Dog is among beer drinkers. It is the Castillo-Corrales I of terrible fights. Harold Lederman, as grizzled a ringside vet as we have, referred to it in the 10th round of the HBO broadcast as, “the worst fight I’ve ever seen.” Lou DiBella provided more evidence for being the most likeable promoter in boxing today in the Dan Rafael quote above. Christening a fight the “worst ever” is practically impossible, but Dirrell-Stevens doubtless makes the short list of every hardcore boxing fan who ever saw it. The only redeeming aspect of the fight is its infamy as an awful spectacle.

Crappy filmmaker extraordinaire Uwe Boll once challenged his critics to box him. Meta! (I swear, that’s the ONLY reason I included this picture…)

That’s where I come in. I have always been fascinated by extremes – the great and the terrible. As much as I revere great books, films and television shows, I keep a keen eye out for the worst of the worst, those rare entertainments that stand out from the ordinary crap that proliferates, the stuff that is so crappy it becomes a veritable synonym for suck. After buying Bob Dylan’s great albums, the ones that Rolling Stone and AllMusic.com and everyone else said were essential – and they were – I promptly picked up Self-Portrait, the album widely derided as his worst, an open insult and challenge to his fans or record label or personal demons or whatever the hell it was, it sure as hell wasn’t Blonde on Blonde. It was bad, but in a fascinating way.

So it’s no surprise that, after boxing captivated me with Corrales-Castillo and Gatti-Ward and Sithchatchawal-Monshipour and Cotto-Torres, I eventually became intrigued by John Ruiz and Henry Akinwande and the other end of the spectrum. There are a lot of bad fights and boring fights, but few fights stand out for their crappiness. The intent of the Quiet Man Hug feature (I got to it eventually) is to revisit the worst of the worst.

“Worst of the worst” is appropriate for Dirrell-Stevens. If Ali-Frazier I was the Fight of the Century, then Dirrell-Stevens was the Blight of the Millennium. Although I often like to review a fight round by round, I will save you the displeasure in this instance. Here, practically word for word, is a transcript of my notes of watching round 1:

Dirrell circles, Stevens punches air

Right hand by Dirrell

Dirrell retreats

Left hook by Stevens

Dirrell retreats

Dirrell circles, Stevens chases, nothing happens

Crowd boos

That was what stood out to me watching the round. That’s it. Repeat that little borderline-poetic series of lines another nine times, add some extra boos in the later rounds, and that, my friends, is the whole fight. Dirrell had no interest in engaging with Stevens and Stevens was too unskilled to do anything about it. Great fights emerge from unpredictability and huge shifts in momentum. Dirrell-Stevens was as predictable and monotonous as two trained, skilled men punching each other in the face could possibly be. If anything, upon second viewing the fight was even worse than its terrible reputation.

Dirrell gets the lion’s share of the blame and deservedly so. While Stevens played his own role in the suckfest, it was involuntary. He simply could not counter Dirrell’s strategy. Dirrell, meanwhile, dictated the pace and nature of the fight from the first bell to the last. Possessing a seven-inch height advantage and far superior speed, Dirrell could have done his Running Man routine for the first few rounds and then, when it was clear to everyone in the building that Stevens was a limited guy who couldn’t touch Andre, he could have unloaded his arsenal on a softened foe. Instead, as late as the ninth round Dirrell ran over two full laps around the ring without pausing or throwing a single punch at Stevens. That is commitment to awfulness.

CompuBox numbers do not always tell the whole story but the story they tell in this case is notable. Through six rounds, Stevens had landed 23 of 204 punches for an 11% connect percentage. Dirrell had landed 63 of 240 punches for a 26% connect percentage. That means that the average round for Stevens to that point was 4-34, while the average Dirrell round was 10-40. That’s atrocious.

Worse is the final CompuBox count. Stevens ended the fight landing 43 of 351 punches for a 12% connect percentage. Dirrell landed 98-399 for a 25% connect percentage. The average round for each fighter by the end? Stevens 4-35, Dirrell 10-40.

Making mistakes is human. Making the same mistake over and over again is insanity.

These guys could have fought a hundred rounds and they would have done the same damn thing. After Larry Merchant uttered his “worst fight ever” line, Lennox Lewis challenged him somewhat, asking why he had given Dirrell most rounds if Dirrell was fighting as badly as Larry indicated. Larry responded, “The other guy is doing worse.” He was deadly accurate and he was right to single out Dirrell for criticism. As bad as Stevens was, he just couldn’t help it. His crime was not being skilled enough. Dirrell’s crime was doing just enough to win while doing everything to irritate the fans. I noted fifteen separate instances of the fans’ booing being loud enough to hear on the broadcast. Fifteen choruses of boos in a 10-round fight. That might be an unbeatable CompuBox stat.

Stevens has an opportunity to begin his redemption on a national stage this Friday night when he faces Jesse Brinkley on Friday Night Fights. However, the stink of this fight never left Andre Dirrell. The stench grew stronger after he fought another track meet against Carl Froch last year in the first round of the super middleweight Super Six tournament (one of many great lines from Merchant about Dirrell: “This is the track and field version of boxing – you run and you don’t want to field any punches”). Just as new action fighters seem to emerge as the old guard fades, so too do the stinkers. As guys like Derrick Gainer, Akinwande and the immortal Ruiz fade into the sunset, a new generation of that most curious case – the fighter who does not like to fight – will emerge.

Andre Dirrell is the face of the new generation.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.