Anthony Dirrell ready for a brawl with Mexican tough guy Marco Antonio Rubio

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Anthony Dirrell wasn’t fighting a sponge, because we all know that sponges are staunch pacifists. Still, the way the other dude in the ring with him soaked up his punishment and just kept on coming suggested some kind of preternatural absorptive powers.

Anthony Dirrell and Marco Antonio Rubio

Anthony Dirrell and Marco Antonio Rubio are all set to throw down in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Sunday. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

Six years ago, Anthony Dirrell fought come-forward Mexican hard ass Alfredo Contreras, who ate his punches as if they provided nourishment instead of pain.

“I mean, he was taking everything but the kitchen sink,” Dirrell recalls, still sounding a little incredulous about Contreras’ ability to digest Hungry Man-sized portions of abuse. “He took it all.”

Eventually, Contreras got his fill of Dirrell’s fists—or his corner did, rather, throwing in the towel in the seventh round after Dirrell landed a wicked body shot.

That was the last time Dirrell took on a come-forward Mexican with a steel-belted chin.

He faces another one Sunday in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“The Mexicans are some of the toughest fighters out there,” Dirrell says as he prepares to battle stiff-necked veteran Marco Antonio Rubio (CBS, 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT). “They’re in wars.”

Rubio certainly fits that designation.

He took a pounding from a prime Kelly Pavlik, went the distance with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and in his biggest win, handed current 160-pound sensation David Lemieux his first loss, knocking him out on his home turf in Montreal in April 2011.

But in Rubio’s last fight, against KO king Gennady Golovkin in October, he was straight savaged, getting dropped hard early in Round 2, failing to beat the count and not appearing to be all that eager to do so, either.

Rubio, who turned pro in 2000, is a battle-tested warrior, but the Golovkin beatdown raised questions about how much fight he has left in him.

None of this has been lost on Dirrell.

“I’m definitely going to test him, see where his heart is,” Dirrell says of jumping on his opponent early. “He’s a tough fighter. You can’t underestimate a guy like that.”

Dirrell has double the incentive to not overlook Rubio: He’s coming off his first defeat after dropping a majority decision to Badou Jack in April.

Though Dirrell doesn’t feel that Jack did enough to beat him and take his title, the setback has impacted his preparations for Rubio.

“We did train a little differently,” he says. “From the first day in training camp, we sparred. And we sparred four days a week, every week. We were just working on coming back from the loss that I had and getting back to where I was.”

At Saturday’s weigh-in, Dirrell came in at 169.6 and Rubio was 169.4 for their contracted 170-pound bout. In the co-main event, a rematch between kinetic 118-pounders Jamie McDonnell and Tomoki Kameda, both fighters weighed in at 117.8.

Dirrell got into fighting shape closer to home this time, as the Flint, Michigan, native trained at the new incarnation of Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym in order to be near his pregnant wife, who is due to give birth to twin sons in November.

“She needs me,” says Dirrell, who also has a 3-year-old son. “I want to be there for her. I don’t want her to think that she has to go through this by herself. I just want to be close to my family, get that family support.”

Some guys prefer isolation when getting ready for a fight.

For Dirrell, though, being on his own in the ring is enough.

“If a fighter is comfortable, he performs better,” he says. “I think everybody will see that in this fight.”

For full coverage of both Dirrell vs Rubio and McDonnell vs Kameda, visit our fight pages

Jamie McDonnell and Tomoki Kameda

Jamie McDonnell is ready to defend his 118-pound world title in a rematch with Tomoki Kameda. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

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