Anthony Dirrell and Avni Yildirim will contest the vacant WBC super-middleweight crown in the Minneapolis Armory on February 23. The title was put up for grabs after former holder David Benavidez failed a drug test and was stripped by the sanctioning body. Dirrell is attempting to win it for the second time having previously taken the belt in 2014 from rugged Aussie-based Cameroonian Sakio Bika (the pair had fought to a draw in 2013). Yildirim, however, is a long-running holder of the fringe WBC International bauble so enjoys a high ranking with the Mexican-based World Boxing Council.
For anyone looking to bet on the main event, Dirrell is within the -500 to -800 range. Yildirim hovers from +350 to +500 depending on the betting organization.
Having already held the title, Dirrell will be the favorite with most establishments. Plus many online fight fans interested in this clash are picking the Michigan man to prevail. While not as athletically gifted as his older brother Andre, 34-year-old Anthony is a sturdier specimen with a sound—if not overly flashy—set of skills. Anthony is also a fighter outside of the ring having overcome a 2007 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis which resulted in chemotherapy and an understandable ring break. Dirrell resumed boxing activities in 2008 and has not looked back since.
Prior to his initial WBC victory over Bika, “The Dog” had not really beaten anyone of great note. A 2013 KO of Anthony Hanshaw was probably the best win on his record. Following his rematch success over Bika, Dirrell was pitched in with Las Vegas-based Swede Badou Jack—a Floyd Mayweather-promoted beast at super-middleweight. Jack won a majority decision over Dirrell and snatched away his title. Five wins (over the likes of Marco Antonio Rubio, Abraham Han, and Denis Douglin) and almost four years later Dirrell now bids to take back that crown.
Yildirim, meanwhile, has been on a rebuilding mission of his own after losing by knockout to Chris Eubank Jr in Germany as part of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. The aptly named “Mr. Robot” was made to look slow and mechanical by the rapid combinations of Eubank Jr., who blitzed the Turkish slugger in the third round. Since then, the 27-year-old Istanbul resident has improved his slate to 21-1 (12 wins by knockout) with five wins on the bounce, albeit against mediocre opposition. Canadian hardman Ryan Ford was outpointed last May; before that, oft-beaten gatekeeper Derek Edwards was neutralized over 12. Late last year Yildirim defeated 46-year-old veteran campaigner Lolenga Mock of Denmark over the distance.
While Avni has been beating up on fringe names of late, he has some solid wins in the pre-Eubank portion of a pro career that started in 2014. 2017 victim Marco Antonio Periban had competed at the world level before Yildirim traveled to his native Mexico to defeat the hometown boxer. Yildirim’s most impressive performance to date probably came in 2016 when he blasted Canadian-based Haitian Schiller Hypolite inside three rounds. Hypolite has never fought since.
Yildirim will need more than his high guard and physically imposing style against someone as savvy as Dirrell. The American boxer showed in the rematch with Sakio Bika that he can sufficiently mix it up with rough-and-operators. Yildirim won’t be as wild as Bika (not many are), but his success will lie on getting inside and working over his co-challenger. Yildirim is the younger man by seven years, but if Dirrell can establish distance, work behind the jab, and implement his more technical attributes, then he should be able to reclaim the WBC crown on points.
The winner should be in for an easy ride regarding the next few defenses, which adds greater emphasis and pressure to this bout. The WBC top 15 is hardly filled with a murderer’s row of talent, snapping at the heels of the two combatants. The likes of Chris Eubank Jr. (who fights James DeGale on the same night as Dirrell-Yildirim), Caleb Truax, David Lemieux, and Rocky Fielding are some of the notable names waiting in line for a shot.
Meanwhile, the pick of a weak Minneapolis undercard sees faded puncher Breidis Prescott going in with Bryant Perella; Jamal James will look to improve his record to 25 wins out of 26 when he tackles 19-1-1 Janer Gonzalez; Dirrell relation Leon Lawson III (unbeaten in eight contests) gets a run-out, and Mark Anthony Hernandez takes on Jeison Rosario at middleweight.
Veteran Leon Margules of Warriors Boxing promotes the event, with FOX Sports 1 televising the action.