By Lindy Lindell
Cries of “He’s okay,” and “He’s all right,” rang out as relatives and the crew of Andre Dirrell burst into the Joe Louis Arena room normally held for Detroit Red Wing press gatherings and celebrations. There were no celebrations on this night. Having put on a near-clinic of beautifully wrought boxing until close to midway into the penultimate 11th round in the 168-pound Super-Six Tournament (now in its second round), Andre Dirrell was awarded a victory by way of disqualification when the then-undefeated Arthur Abraham, well behind on points, unintentionally slugged Dirrell where he had slipped in Abraham’s thoroughly doused corner. Abraham’s right struck Dirrell in the left temple as he was virtually sitting on his bent left leg. After a second or two, Abraham having moved away. Dirrell capsized onto the canvas, totally prone. Referee Laurence Cole had started a count, but when Dirrell pancaked, he waved the fight off, rushing to the other side of the ring and then back to tell Abraham that he had been disqualified.
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Promoter Gary Shaw conducted the first half of the press conference in a foul mood that went beyond the bounds of indignation. Shaw, who also represents Dirrell, said, “Andre was knocked out.” By the time he was revived, he was clearly distraught. Shaw: “He was crying and was afraid of being called a coward. He’s not a coward.”
There is more to the story that put Shaw in a foul mood. Shortly before the press conference convened (with Dirrell having been taken to the hospital and shortly before Shaw approached the podium’s microphone), an unidentified member of the Dirrell camp shouted to a party in the Abraham camp, “You people are a classless act!” It was unclear as to what this outrage was about, but Shaw, after quickly thanking the people of Olympia Entertainment (the group controlling the venue of Joe Louis Arena) and Michigan boxing officials, made the startling accusation, “Wilfried Sauerland [promoter of Abraham and a co-promoter of the present promotion] is a classless act!” Shaw explained that Sauerland had wanted to have Dirrell drug tested for steroids.
Shaw went on to explain (with neither Sauerland , Abraham, or any of their camp in the room) that Michigan, while it tests for marijuana and cocaine, does not test for steroids:
“I’m not gonna go over to the hospital and hold a bottle for Andre.” Then: “I don’t know who said it, but someone yelled out that Andre was a coward. I’ve been in boxing since 1971 and this man is not a coward. Andre had put on a clinic until the end. But Andre heard this, and it upset him greatly. He had just woke up and was confused at the time.”
Some observed his behavior as being delirious. At any rate, ringside doctors in his dressing room thought it best that since he “appeared confused and did not know where he was,” thought it best that he be taken to the hospital for observation.” Shaw admitted, “Andre told me that he didn’t know that he had won the fight.” But when Shaw spoke with Abraham, Shaw told the press that he was outraged with what Abraham said. Shaw: “Arthur Abraham told me he thought Andre was an actor.”
Shortly thereafter, with several from the Dirrell camp arriving to report that Andre was all right, Shaw was joined on the dais by Andre’s brother, Anthony (also a 168-pound pro and undefeated), and the son of the Dirrell brothers’ grandfather, Leon Lawson, Jr. Both expressed outrage that Andre had been struck while on the canvas. Anthony took the microphone and proclaimed, “A fighter knows when the man he’s fighting is on the ground.” It was a refrain that was to echo through the duration of the press conference.
At this point, Abraham, his trainer, Ulli Wegner, and promoter Wilfried Sauerland seated themselves on the right side of the podium. Sauerland, who resides in Switzerland, and who has been promoting on a major stage for the past thirty years, expressed his concern for Dirrell’s welfare and acknowledged that Dirrell had gotten off to an early lead. But he wanted to make it clear that the replay of the 11th round incident that cost him his figher a disqualification loss had not been made available to him. He pointed out referee Cole’s apparent confusion: “I don’t understand why the referee started counting and then disqualified him.”
Through interpreter Johannes Berendt, trainer Wegner said that his charge did not know that Dirrell was on the canvas. Sauerland chimed in that Dirrell (living up to his nickname “The Matrix”) sometimes lowered himself in such a way that it was difficult to tell that he was indeed on the canvas. And Abraham was adamant: through Berendt, he said that Dirrell was prone. (There is a picture in the next day’s Detroit Free Press of Abraham holding his gloved hands out to referee Cole in such a way that he was baffled as to why the fight was being stopped.)
The side issue of the steroids testing issue was broached, with Sauerland bringing up the point that Abraham, with his jaw broken in two places in his first fight with Edison Miranda, still took his drug test by urinating in a cup. “This is a requirement in Germany,” said Sauerland. Shaw responded, “This isn’t Germany.”
As did Abraham, Sauerland again readily conceded that Dirrell had gotten off to an early lead, but Sauerland added, “Arthur had scored a knockdown in the 10th that somehow the referee did not see and it would have been interesting what would have happened had the fight continued. Arthur was coming on and I believe Arthur would have knocked him out later in that round [the 11th] or in the final round.”
Finally, a member of the press asked Abraham, “When you get to see the tape, even if it shows that you hit him when he was down, do you still think that you shouldn’t have been disqualified?” Abraham needed no interpreter and he did not hesitate: “Nein!”