ANTHONY Dirrell captured the vacant World Boxing Council super-middleweight world title with a 10-round technical split decision over Turkey’s Avni Yildirim on Saturday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The action-packed bout was stopped in the 10th of 12 scheduled rounds on the advice of the ringside doctor because of a gaping cut over Dirrell’s left eye.
With the cut deemed to have resulted from an accidental head butt in the middle rounds, they went to the scorecards, with two ringside judges scoring it 96-94 for Dirrell and one seeing it 98-92 for Yildirim.
Yildirim, who began celebrating as soon as the bout was stopped, looked on in disgust as the belt was handed to Dirrell, who regained a title he first won with a unanimous decision over Sakio Bika in August 2014 only to lose it in his first defense against Badou Jack.
“This one is just as joyful,” said Dirrell, whose ring career was nearly derailed in 2006 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
He was sidelined for almost two years before returning in 2008.
Dirrell said he could not tell how bad the cut was.
“I wanted to keep going and finish the fight like a champion,” said the American, who improved to 33-1-1 with 24 wins inside the distance.
Yildirim fell to 21-2, with 12 knockouts. He had won five fights in a row since a knockout loss to Chris Eubank Jr. in October of 2017.
Dirrell, 34, has said he expects 2019 to be his last year before he retires, but before he departs he’s eager for a unification bout against International Boxing Federation title holder Caleb Plant.
He captured the title left vacant when David Benavidez was stripped of the belt and suspended after testing positive for cocaine on August 27.
A title fight against Benavidez, slated to return to the ring in March, could also be on the cards.
In another development, Chris Eubank Jr claimed a points victory over James DeGale after twice flooring his British super-middleweight rival at The O2.
Eubank Jr forced DeGale onto the back foot with his early aggression on Saturday night, knocking him down twice on the way to a unanimous decision win with scores of 114-112, 115-112 and 117-109.
There had been talk of retirement from DeGale before the fight and the 33-year-old former world champion hinted afterwards that he could leave the sport after the third defeat of his career.
Eubank Jr fought like a man who knew he could not suffer another setback following high-profile losses to Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, and the 29-year-old aimed spiteful hooks at DeGale from the first bell.
He landed one of those looping punches in the second round, sending DeGale wobbling backwards, and his follow-up assault left his shaken foe sagging on the ropes, prompting the referee to administer a count.