Bronze medalist Dirrell turns pro here tonight

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Andre Dirrell didn't win a gold medal like Andre Ward did in Athens in August, but many in boxing consider Dirrell, whose bronze at 165 pounds was the only other American medal in the sport, the better professional prospect.

That's what many ringsiders saw in the ripping jab, luring feints, stinging power and general poise displayed by the Flint, Mich,, native in the Olympics. And those are skills Dirrell, 21, vows he'll use tonight at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, where he will begin as a professional against Ryan Franklin (2-0, two knockouts) of Sault St. Marie, Mich.

"I hear the crowds at [Michael's] are always loud, enthusiastic fans, and that's what makes it for me. The more I hear them, the more I'm into it and the more punches I land," said Dirrell, who, along with his brother, Anthony, 20, is campaigning as a super middleweight (168 pounds).

"I'm not someone who will throw punches just to throw punches - that's not how a professional is supposed to fight," said Andre Dirrell. "I like to be slick - bang, box, score with both hands and be a switch-hitter."

Dirrell-Franklin is part of an ambitious Ballroom Boxing card composed of popular Dundalk heavyweight Mike Dietrich (2-0, one KO); Paulsboro (N.J.) heavyweight Chazz Witherspoon (1-0, one KO); Puerto Rican lightweight (130 pounds) Roman Martinez (9-0-1, six KOs) and lightweight contender Lamont Pearson (20-3-1, 11 KOs) of Capitol Heights.

The main event features Pearson, 33, who in December 2002 fought for the World Boxing Association super featherweight crown, ending a 17-month layoff against Ivan Alvarez (19-15, eight KOs) of Miami. In the co-feature, Martinez, 21, of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, meets Mario Lacey (7-7, six KOs) of Mobile, Ala.

But the draw of the night may well be Dirrell, who will earn $3,000 - an unprecedented amount for a four-round fight on a club show in Maryland - but could easily have passed it up for a more lucrative payday.

"It's unbelievable that we have the opportunity to have him in the ballroom. I mean, this guy's going to be a world champion," said promoter Scott Wagner, who credits matchmaker Chris Middendorf, with landing Dirrell.

In Ward's first pro fight, at Los Angeles' Staples Center on HBO on Dec. 18, he posted a 40-second knockout of Christopher Molina.

But Dirrell has chosen a different path, eschewing signing bonuses of "up to $470,000" for four years, according to Leon Lawson, his longtime trainer, manager and grandfather.

Also turned down was an offer from Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy promotions to appear on the Feb. 19 undercard of Bernard Hopkins' middleweight defense against Howard Eastman.

"It was too close to Feb. 11," said Dirrell, who's on the undercard of a Laila Ali-Cassandra Geigger women's super middleweight bout that night.

"We'll build Andre up by fighting eight to 10 times this year, work with different promoters, see who we're comfortable with," said Lawson.

"I'm a star who's going to shine once they see how I get it done," said Dirrell. "When I've won about 10 fights, the money will be still be there, and they'll all be calling."

Fight card

Lamont Pearson, Capitol Heights (20-3-1, 11 KOs) vs. Ivan Alvarez, Miami (19-15, eight KOs), lightweights (130 pounds).

Roman Martinez, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico (9-0-1, six KOs) vs. Mario Lacey, Mobile, Ala. (7-7, six KOs), lightweights.

Chazz Witherspoon, Paulsboro, N.J. (1-0, one KO) vs. Yul Witherspoon, Lake Charles, La. (1-0), heavyweights.

Andre Dirrell, Flint, Mich. (pro debut) vs. Ryan Franklin, Sault St. Marie, Mich. (2-0, two KOs), super middleweights (168 pounds).

Anthony Dirrell, Flint Mich. (pro debut) vs. Henry Duke, New York (0-3), super middleweights.

Mike Dietrich, Dundalk (2-0, one KO) vs. Royphy Solieau, Lake Charles, La. (0-3), heavyweights.

Ballroom Boxing

Where: Michael's Eighth Avenue, Glen Burnie.

When: Tonight, doors open at 6:30, fights start at 7.

Tickets: $100, $50, $35.

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