The first fight was competitive, and not as messy; the second fight was downright ugly, but Anthony Dirrell turned a draw into a clear win Saturday night on Showtime against Sakio Bika.
Referee Jack Reiss was arguably the main character in this super middleweight do-over, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Early on, he wouldn’t let Bika get away with his usual prolific fouling. It made a fight that was instantly lawless — Bika’s first move was to spin Dirrell around and punch him on the back of the head as he fell to the ground. That Dirrell’s first move was to run out at him and throw power shots put Bika in a rare defensive posture. Bika started to work his way back into it in the 1st round, but Reiss halted his momentum because Bika couldn’t employ his style, which is, roughly, a charging elephant using his tusks to rip up the rulebook.
Dirrell might even have hurt Bika a couple times, tagging him with flush uppercuts. At age 35, and with the referee cracking down on his antics, he struggled to get into his herky-jerky rhythm, such as it is. Dirrell, too, would find a way to counter what Bika did effectively; for instance, in the 7th, Bika managed to get into Dirrell’s chest legally, only for Dirrell to connect on some hard shots, wheel away, and prevent Bika from doing it again.
But the 8th round, when Reiss docked Bika for low blows that weren’t that low, his over-officiousness went from “arguably necessary” to “too much even under the circumstances.” Bika found some success late as Dirrell slowed down, but it was too little, too late. The unanimous decision of 114-113, 116-111 and 117-110 was the right call, with the wider scores more like mine.
So, Dirrell now has a signature win, even if Bika was a bit faded. It’s likely his next fight won’t be so ragged, since he won’t be fighting Bika. Whether people can embrace him and his story of coming back from cancer will have something to do with whether he can get back to fighting in a style that doesn’t end up getting boos from the fans. He fought well, fought smartly, was able to stay off the ropes with good counters and his speed is real. He could make for some solid bouts with the likes of, say, George Groves.
(The bout was on the undercard of Kell Brook-Shawn Porter.)
(Bika, left, Dirrell, right, by Showtime’s Esther Lin; via)