If Anthony Dirrell indeed decides to retire from boxing following his fight on Saturday, he can walk away with a world title -- but one he obtained with mild controversy.
Dirrell won a 10-round technical split decision in an all-action fight against Avni Yildirim to claim a vacant super middleweight world title in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card at The Armory in Minneapolis.
The fight was sent to the scorecards for a technical decision because Dirrell had been cut over his left eye by an accidental clash of heads in the seventh round, and it got considerably worse by the 10th round and caused the bout to be stopped.
One judge scored the fight 98-92 for Yildirim, but the other two judges had it 96-94 for Dirrell. ESPN had it 96-94 for Dirrell, who won a super middleweight world title for the second time.
"I wanted to keep going. I was upset [about the cut], but I wanted to keep going and finish the fight like a champion," Dirrell said. "It feels good [to win another world title]. I think the first time was a little bit more enjoyable, but I'm excited to get another title for my grandfather [Leon Lawson Sr.]."
After his previous fight, Dirrell said he wanted one more fight and for it to be for a world title. Before the fight with Yildirim, he said it could be his last bout, and that if it weren't, 2019 would be his last year in the ring because he has been boxing since he was 9 and has said for years that he wanted to retire at 34, his current age. He wants to get out of boxing with his health and to be there for his wife and three young sons.
But with a title in hand and the prospect of a unification fight with Caleb Plant, who was ringside working as part of the Fox Sports 1 broadcast team, Dirrell sounded like he would stick around for at least one more fight because of the financial benefits such a fight would provide. But first, Dirrell had to get past Yildirim, which proved to be no easy task, in their fight for the 168-pound belt that was stripped from David Benavidez last year after he tested positive for cocaine.
"Of course, unify. Caleb Plant, any of the other champions," Dirrell said. "I'll take some time, go home and talk to my camp, and we'll go from there. If that fight [with Benavidez] calls, then I'll fight. We got to see where the money's at at the end of the day."
Dirrell promised he would go right at Yildirim, and he did just that to start the fight. He fired punches consistently and connected with a powerful right uppercut midway through the opening round.
It was a spirited battle all the way and featured plenty of two-way action, such as in the fourth round, when they traded toe-to-toe for a long stretch in the second half of the round. Yildirim backed Dirrell up toward the ropes with right hands, but Dirrell landed stiff shots to the head and body in the back-and-forth fight.
Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs), of Flint, Michigan, who was fighting for the first time in 10 months, had a big seventh round in which he landed numerous punches as they brawled in the middle of the ring. However, Dirrell also suffered the cut when they banged heads. Yildirim, who pressed forward nonstop, suffered a cut on his nose in the eighth round, in which there was another long stretch of sustained slugging.
The cut was bothering Dirrell, who pawed at it at various times, and when he did it again in the 10th round, referee Mark Nelson called a timeout for the ringside doctor to examine the wound. He recommended that the fight be stopped, and Nelson waved it off, sending it to the scorecards for a technical decision.
Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs), 27, of Turkey, and his team were visibly upset by the scoring, as his five-fight win streak since suffering a brutal knockout loss to Chris Eubank Jr. in October 2017 came to an end.
According to CompuBox statistics, Dirrell landed 317 of 863 punches (37 percent) -- and appeared to be the heavier hitter -- and Yildirim landed 240 of 692 (35 percent). Dirrell landed more punches in nine of the 10 rounds.
"I thought I was winning this fight by more than what the judges had," said Dirrell, who won his sixth fight in a row since losing his first world title by majority decision to Badou Jack in 2015. "I was jabbing him, and he was applying some pressure, but that's just what he does. I won the fight, though, and that's all that matters."
James knocks out Gonzalez
In the co-feature, welterweight contender Jamal James forced Janer Gonzalez to retire on his stool following the sixth round.
A Minneapolis native, James (25-1, 12 KOs), 30, won his sixth fight in a row as he closes in on a world title opportunity. He hasn't lost since his only career defeat in August 2016, a 10-round decision to contender Yordenis Ugas, who challenges Shawn Porter for his world title on March 9.
James, with a packed crowd cheering him on, was in control of the fight going into the sixth round.
James landed a right hand to the shoulder that appeared to drop Gonzalez (19-2-1, 15 KOs), 31, of Colombia, who was fighting in the United States for the second time in a row. However, referee Gary Miezwa ruled that it was a slip because James also stepped on Gonzalez's foot.
Later in the sixth round, James landed a series of punches, including a hard left hook to the body, which resulted in Gonzalez taking a knee. He beat the count and finished the round, but he quit after the round.
"He gave me a great fight, but at the end of the day, I had too much to offer," James said. "I just kept my range and was able to counter on him. And when he was coming in, he was coming in real wild and opening himself up for some big shots that I was able to take advantage of."
According to CompuBox, James landed 112 of 447 punches (25 percent), and Gonzalez landed 70 of 193 (36 percent).
James said he was lifted by the outstanding crowd support.
"This is the best crowd I've ever fought in front of," he said. "We packed this place out. Middle of winter, snow all around us, and they still came out and showed a lot of support. I can't even explain the feeling to come out here and stop him. The only question I have is where's my belt? I'm ranked third in the WBA. Keith Thurman got the belt. [Manny] Pacquiao got the [secondary] belt. But in all honesty, whoever gives me that opportunity, I'm stepping in there with them."
Rosario stops Hernandez in rematch
In the opening bout, welterweight Jeison Rosario (18-1-1, 13 KOs), 23, of the Dominican Republic, stopped Marcos Hernandez (13-2-1, 3 KOs), 25, of Fresno, California, in the ninth round of their rematch.
Rosario and Hernandez first met in February in El Paso, Texas, where they fought to a six-round split draw. They looked like they might be headed to another even fight through the eighth round of the rematch, but late in the ninth round of their scheduled 10-rounder, Rosario landed a flush left hook on the chin to knock Hernandez flat on his back. Hernandez beat the count, but as Rosario unloaded numerous punches during the follow-up attack, referee Celestino Ruiz stepped in to stop the bout at 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
Rosario landed 202 of 653 punches (31 percent), and Hernandez landed 166 of 640 (26 percent), according to CompuBox.