Dirrell conflicted about boxing, considering retirement -- after one more fight

Anthony Dirrell is planning retirement after his super middleweight title fight against Avni Yildirim on Saturday. Elsa/Getty Images

Anthony Dirrell is conflicted about boxing.

He is 34 years old and has been fighting since he was 9, and he has made it very clear he does not want to be a fighter who hangs around too long and suffers health issues because of the ring later in life. He has a wife and three young sons -- a 7-year-old and 3-year-old twins -- and wants to be there for them.

But Dirrell is also hungry for a second world title and, more significantly, the financial security that would go with winning it. That is why retirement is on his mind -- and has been for some time -- win or lose, in his next fight.

After his last fight, a one-sided 10-round decision win over Abraham Han 10 months ago, Dirrell said he hoped to fight one more time, for a title, and then retire.

His next fight is indeed for a title. He will face Avni Yildirim for a vacant super middleweight world title in the main event of the Premier Boxing Champions card on Saturday (Fox Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET) at The Armory in Minneapolis.

Dirrell got a taste of a title when he won a 168-pound belt by tough unanimous decision over Sakio Bika in August 2014 in a rematch of their draw in the previous fight. But life with the belt was fleeting, as Dirrell lost a narrow majority decision to Badou Jack in his first defense eight months later.

"Boxing is not my only income. I invested my money well but you are always conflicted. I've been doing this since I was 9. It will be hard to let go. You got to really think about it." Anthony Dirrell

Five wins in a row later -- not to mention having had a shot at then-world titlist David Benavidez canceled in late 2017 because Dirrell hurt his back -- and his second opportunity to win a belt is at hand.

"I'm ready for this," Dirrell told ESPN this week. "I've been training hard. I work in the gym all the time. I'm really prepared mentally and physically and prepared to go in and put on a good show. I always wanted another shot. I even wanted a rematch with Jack to avenge the loss. I gave him a shot. He didn't return the favor, but it is what it is. I actually thought I won that fight but I give him all the credit. He did what he was supposed to do. I thought I won and moved on from there.

"You keep fighting to get another shot. I knew I would get another shot. It was just a matter of when."

Whether Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KOs), of Flint, Michigan, will stick around to continue boxing after Saturday's fight, regardless of the outcome, is what eats at him.

"It will be tough," Dirrell said of making a decision. "You got to get out before this game puts you out. I always said I wanted to retire at 34. Now I am 34. I don't want to be an old guy who can't pronounce something and has trouble. I want to start a new chapter. It's almost time for me to get out. Almost, but not quite. But I got a family. I got kids. I am missing their basketball games when I am at training camp."

He said he does not want his boys to take up boxing like he and his older brother, longtime super middleweight contender and 2004 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell, did.

"I don't want my kids doing this," he said. "The business aspect of boxing is like no other sport. We have no union. We are all out for ourselves. Boxing is torture. You have to starve yourself. You got to do this and that. It's a lot, the training part, the business aspect."

Dirrell has not only had to navigate the complexities of the business and deal with the physical rigors, he also did something very rare -- he overcame cancer to win a world title. He and middleweight Daniel Jacobs are believed to be the only pro fighters to ever do that.

Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in late 2006 and was out of the ring for nearly two years before getting a clean bill of health and returning in late 2008. Even if he calls it a career after Saturday, or even fights beyond that, he said he will always be proud of his comeback from cancer to win a world title.

"How many people can say they came back from cancer and won a championship? Me and Daniel Jacobs," Dirrell said. "We overcame. It's a big accomplishment for me. I came back from cancer and won a title a week apart from Jacobs. To go for it and win it again [Saturday] is a big accomplishment. When I win it, I will have nothing to prove to anyone. I did everything I did in the sport and I have nothing to prove. I'm ready for this fight and ready to be champion again."

And he said he thinks he is also ready to leave it behind regardless of what happens against Yildirim (21-1, 12 KOs), 27, of Turkey, who has won five fights in a row since suffering a brutal knockout loss to Chris Eubank Jr. in October 2017.

"Me and [fellow PBC fighter and world titlist] Caleb Plant would be a good fight," said Dirrell, whose inner conflict about continuing to box is evident in his voice. "I really just want the belts and the money that comes with it. You can't do nothing with the belt. Right now it's more about the money. I'm 34 years old. There's new talent coming into the sport and the old is going out. I started 14 years ago in 2005. Probably this will be my last fight or my last year boxing, for sure. I want to relax and enjoy the fruit that I have I worked hard for. But winning this title would mean the world. It will mean I am a two-time world champion and I could walk away.

"Boxing is not my only income. I invested my money well but you are always conflicted. I've been doing this since I was 9. It will be hard to let go. You got to really think about it."