James DeGale and Andre Dirrell will fight for the vacant IBF Super-middleweight on Saturday the 23rd May in Boston.
The meeting between these two is significant on a number of levels. Both fighters are switch hitters, both are former Olympic medallists and both men have yet to win a world title.
Degale is the 2008 Olympic Gold medallist in the middleweight division, with a professional record of 20-1 (14 KOs), can make history on Saturday by becoming the first British fighter to win both an Olympic Gold medal and a professional world title. Certainly, Degale has the qualities to become a world champion; good movement, speed and power, yet this title bout is being consider by some as a 50/50 fight.
American Andre Dirrell is the 2004 Olympic Bronze medallist in the middleweight division, with a professional record of 24-1 (16 KOS). A natural southpaw Dirrell turned pro in 2005, four years later he was taking part in the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament along with the Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, Jermain Taylor, Andre Ward and Carl Froch.
The only blemish on his record, is a split decision loss to Carl Froch for the WBC Super-middleweight title during the Super Six. Dirrell subsequently went on to beat the teak tough Arthur Abraham albeit in controversial circumstances. Ahead on points and having knocked Abraham down for the first time in his career, in the eleventh round Dirrell slipped on a wet patch in the ring, Abraham punched Dirrell while he was down on one knee causing a delayed reaction, resulting in Dirrell shaking on the canvas. The referee declared it an intentional foul and Dirrell was awarded a win by disqualification.
Following the Super Six Dirrell took a twenty one month layoff as a result of neurological injuries suffered in the Abraham fight. Since his return he has fought five times, winning three by knockout, although the quality of the opposition could be criticised.
During his last fight Dirrell was wobbled by the unheralded Derek Edwards in the final round of a fight that he won on points. Dirrell fought the majority of that fight as a southpaw, so it could suggest that he had a problem with his right hand or it could suggest that the timing is right for Degale to take him.
Degale is hungry for the win and wants to create history, he has been on an upward trajectory since turning pro, he defeated the more experienced Paul Smith Jr for the British Super-Middleweight title in only his ninth professional fight. The wheels came off slightly with the loss to George Groves, but since Degale signed a new promotional deal with Matchroom Sport he has secured impressive stoppages of Brandon Gonzáles and Marco Antonio Peribán.
The fight represents an interesting match-up, two fighters with similar records both attempting to win their first world title. When fighters are evenly matched on paper one has to consider the quality of opposition both fighters have faced.
Dirrell has faced a better calibre of opponent, and any fighter who can outbox and knock down Arthur Abraham deserves respect. However, critics will say that Dirrell has not fought a worthy opponent since 2010, although equally you could question the quality of opposition Degale has fought.
Degale’s only loss was to George Groves who has subsequently been beaten twice by Carl Froch in 2013 and 2014. In 2009, Dirrell gave Froch an awkward night’s work in their world title fight, and at points frustrated the Nottingham fighter with his movement and clinching.
Dirrell and Degale do not share any opponents but interestingly in 2011 in his first fight after the Groves loss, Degale won a hard fought points decision against Piotr Wilczewski for the EBU Super Middleweight title. Wilczewski was stopped by Curtis Stevens in 2009, an opponent who Direll had beaten soundly on points in 2007.
It is these interesting morsels that make the fight all the more tantalising as it approaches. Degale will certainly be looking to make history, Dirrell will be seeking to avoid the fate of his brother; Anthony Dirrell who lost his WBC Super-Middleweight title via majority decision to Badou Jack last month. Degale has all the qualities to become a world champion and the timing could be right against Dirrell.
However that aside, the fight is being fought in Boston. British middle and super-middleweights have had poor form recently when it comes to contesting world titles on foreign soil. Paul Smith Jr and Martin Murray have both been unlucky in title fights abroad. Direll is a tricky fighter and he will be confident that he can win a world title on his second attempt.
The meeting of two switch hitters may result in an ugly fight for fans, if it goes the distance then one would have to favour the American Dirrell providing he turns in a performance akin to the Abraham fight. Degale is certainly attempting to win a world title the hard way and he may have to produce a knockout to be sure of victory.