It was as if there was a disconnect between his fists and what makes them fly, a broken circuit between the body and the mind.
On a Friday night in Chicago this past April, Anthony Dirrell (27-1-1, 22 KOs) didn’t really look like Anthony Dirrell.
It was the 168-pound champ’s first title defense, against hard-knock Swede Badou Jack—an underdog for sure, but no mutt.
Dirrell jumped on Jack early, throwing lunging left hooks and pumping out his right hand with pneumatic intensity. But a minute into Round 2, Jack cracked Dirrell square on the chin with a hard right hand of his own, stalling Dirrell’s budding momentum.
From there, Dirrell mostly seemed out of sorts, especially in the middle rounds, like a high-performance vehicle hiccupping along on low-octane fuel.
Dirrell didn’t appear hurt, or even all that shaken up, but he began to rely exclusively on power shots as Jack jabbed his way forward, eking out close rounds.
You kept waiting for Dirrell to display the explosiveness that made him a champion. You knew it was there, but it appeared only in flashes, like lightning briefly illuminating the fog he seemed to be fighting in.
Mentally, Dirrell just didn’t appear to be fully engaged at all times. It wasn't until the 11th round that he finally started turning in the kind of kinetic showing for which he’s capable.
But by then, it was too late: He dropped a majority decision, and with it, his title.
Five months later, Dirrell recalls that night as one of disappointment, if not defeat.
“I was flat. I knew it. Knew it from the first round,” he says. “Sometimes, I tried to get out of it, see if I could fight my way out of it—that’s why I was standing there fighting with him. The 11th and 12th rounds I definitely beat him. Easy. That’s what I should have done the whole fight.”
Nevertheless, Dirrell still doesn’t feel like Jack bested him.
“I really don’t think he did enough to win that fight,” he says. “You’ve got to beat the champion completely, convincingly. In my eyes, a majority decision doesn’t go to the challenger; it goes to the champion. But it is what it is, water under the bridge.”
Dirrell is plunging headfirst back into those waters as he prepares to take on Marco Antonio Rubio (59-7-1, 51 KOs) on Sunday at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas (CBS, 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT).
In the wake of the-loss-that-perhaps-shouldn't-have-been, Dirrell has made some minor tweaks to his training regimen, including his diet.
“I’m just eating better,” he says, noting that changes to his meal schedule leading up to the Jack fight were the result of being in a different time zone and negatively impacted him on the day of the weigh-in.
Still, Dirrell doesn’t want to be seen as making excuses.
“There are a lot of things that I could say,” Dirrell states, declining to say them. “But he’s the champion now.”
He sounds less than convinced. But that quickly changes.
“I will have my time back there,” Dirrell says unequivocally. “Soon.”
For full coverage of Dirrell vs Rubio, visit our fight page.