"King" Arthur Abraham
Birthplace: Yerevan, Armenia
Resides: Berlin, Germany
Height: 5' 10"
Current Titles Held: None
Former Titles Held: IBF Middleweight (160 lbs.)
Professional Record: 31-0, 25 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 8-0
Record at 168 lbs.: 7-0
"The Matrix" Andre Dirrell
Birthplace: Flint, Michigan
Resides: Flint, Michigan
Height: 6' 2"
Current World Titles Held: None
Former World Titles Held: None
Professional Record: 18-1, 13 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 0-1
Record at 168 lbs.: 16-1
Notable Win: TKO6 Victor Oganov
Notable Loss: SD12 Carl Froch
The star-crossed second phase of round robin matches in the Super Six World Boxing Classic looks like it will finally get underway on Saturday. Delays, injuries and substitutions have been the rule rather than the exception for several months, but barring something unexpected at the last second, Arthur Abraham and Andre Dirrell will do battle in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.
Not that this fight hasn't had a few problems of its own. It was originally set for March 6 but had to get pushed back due to a minor back injury suffered by Dirrell while training.
He's supposedly back in great physical condition, but it remains to be seen how he rebounds mentally after suffering his first career loss in his opening Super Six bout. Dirrell flashed the sublime hand speed and unorthodox punching angles that helped him earn his film-inspired nickname, but he came up short after 12 hard rounds against Carl Froch in a decision that divided viewers among geographic lines: viewers who watched the fight on TV thought Dirrell won, while those who were at the fight live favored Froch.
Abraham had no such troubles while administering a wicked final-round knockout to Jermain Taylor that ultimately chased the former middleweight champion right out of the tournament. His victory last October followed his typical pattern, with King Arthur starting slowly and utilizing his high guard, then turning on the heat in the later rounds with accurate power punching.
Though Abraham has fought more rounds against top-ranked opposition, both fighters may experience new kinds of challenges on Saturday. No one on Abraham's resume had Dirrell's superior athleticism or fought with his herky-jerky pacing and rough (detractors would say dirty) inside tactics. By the same token, The Matrix has never had to deal with someone possessing the defensive awareness or one-shot power that King Arthur can call upon.
Dirrell was vocal about what he felt was a judging bias against him when he took on Froch in his native country. He'll have no excuses on that front this time, as Detroit is just a short drive from his home in Flint.
Abraham's Winning Strategy: Don't Wait Too Long to Get Started
At 31-0, there isn't too much motivation for Abraham to change what he's doing. He's known as a slow starter, but that's by design. He loves to spend a few rounds covering up and sizing up his opponent before he exploits the openings he inevitably finds.
Dirrell is still relatively young and inexperienced, so there's no reason to think Abraham won't sense some weaknesses in him too. But King Arthur usually wins at least a round or two early on just to keep it close, and there's a risk that The Matrix will simply bank early rounds by staying busier, then prove just tricky enough to hang on down the stretch.
Abraham was already starting to look for more of his offense in Round Five against Taylor, and he scored a knockdown in Round Six. He'll want to follow a similar schedule against Dirrell in order to force the American into exchanges instead of allowing him to hit and grab or run away.
Dirrell's Winning Strategy: Show Quick Feet, Not Just Quick Hands
No one at super middleweight, and perhaps only a handful of boxers at any weight, can match Dirrell for raw hand speed. He isn't just quick to the punch, he's also more than willing to let his hands go, stringing together flashy combinations from just about any range or angle.
Yet, that wasn't enough to get by Froch, and Abraham is even better in terms of controlling the pace and distance of a fight. Dirrell will also be on the wrong side of the power equation, so he can't just go in with both guns blazing and expect to win.
His edge is likely to be in his feet instead of his hands. Dirrell had plenty of spring in his step against Froch, but he used it mostly to close the range and clinch instead of staying on the attack.
Abraham isn't as plodding as some make him out to be, but Dirrell needs to take a page from countryman Andre Ward and use lateral movement to try to befuddle King Arthur. If Andre can get off first and still leave himself in position to keep punching without staying in front of Abraham's cannon of a right hand, he just might be able to dethrone royalty and turn the Super Six on its head.