Super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell has withdrawn from Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic due to neurological problems that could end his career, Leon Lawson Jr., Dirrell's uncle and trainer, told ESPN.com on Thursday.
Not only is Dirrell's career in jeopardy, but his medical issues are yet another blow to the fast-fading six-man tournament, which has been beset by numerous delays and has now seen half of the original field withdraw because of injuries: Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler and Jermain Taylor.
Dirrell had been scheduled to fight Andre Ward, his good friend and fellow 2004 U.S. Olympic medal winner, on Nov. 27 in Group Stage 3 of the tournament, with a semifinal berth at stake.
Showtime's Ken Hershman announced Dirrell's withdrawal during a teleconference with reporters Thursday, but declined to say what the nature of Dirrell's injury was, instead referring those questions to Dirrell's team.
However, Hershman did say that even with Dirrell out, the tournament would continue and that Ward instead would defend his 168-pound world title against an opponent to be determined on the date, probably in his hometown of Oakland, Calif.
Hershman said Ward's fight might not be a formal tournament bout, however. He said Showtime and the promoters hoped to have a resolution on Ward's opponent and if it would be a tournament fight on Friday. The agreements outlining the tournament rules allow for a fight to take place outside of the tournament.
"We're just making an internal calculation," Hershman said. "We're really trying to preserve the integrity of the tournament."
Ward promoter Dan Goossen did not return phone messages.
Because Ward already has earned enough points to advance to the semifinals, the outcome of his next bout does not affect his standing in the field, although he could lose his title.
"I want to be clear -- the Super Six will go on," Hershman said. "Obviously, we're disappointed by this development, but we still believe in the Super Six. Really, the circumstances we were confronted with were really unprecedented. As a boxing fan and somebody who really believes in the tournament structure, it can't be anything but disappointing."
Lawson said that Dirrell's symptoms of "headaches and dizziness" began shortly after his March fight against Arthur Abraham in Group Stage 2 of the modified round-robin tournament. In that fight, Dirrell was on his way to a lopsided decision when he slipped to the canvas in the 11th round and Abraham nailed him with a flush right hand to the temple while he was down. Dirrell, who never saw the punch coming, was knocked out and declared the winner on a disqualification because of the flagrant foul.
"Andre was saying he was having headaches and dizziness," Lawson said. "My father [Leon Lawson Sr.] and me asked him how long it was going on and he said periodically since after the fight. It was something we suspected. We saw slight changes in his normal being. It alarmed us. We're going to take it serious. He's not only a fighter, he's our family.
"We took him to a doctor and then a neurologist. When we took him to the neurologist, he was alarmed. He said Andre wasn't fit to fight right now. Before he would even consider letting him fight, he would need three months symptom-free. It would get to the point where Andre would have to sit down. He couldn't lay down because [the symptoms] would get worse."
Ward-Dirrell was originally scheduled for Sept. 25, but called off for reasons that were never announced, although a site had never been finalized, no tickets had ever been put on sale and no promotion had ever taken place. There had been rampant speculation that Ward and Dirrell, who are good friends, did not want to fight each other.
However, Lawson denied that was an issue.
"That delay was promoter issues and the site," Lawson said of the Sept. 25 postponement. "But it couldn't have happened then anyway because of [the medical situation]."
Lawson said he understood the speculation about Dirrell and Ward not wanting to fight.
"For people who say that this is fake or they just didn't want to fight, I understand," Lawson said. "They're just fight fans and want to see a good fight. But you got to understand these are human beings and things like this can happen. Anyone who doubts this at all, just turn on the TV and watch the last fight, and see how he was hit while he was down and defenseless. I was there. I seen it first hand. I was very worried. The cameras didn't show everything. There was some damage done."
Al Haymon, Dirrell's manager, declined to comment when reached by ESPN.com. Promoter Gary Shaw, who said he was informed of the withdrawal on Wednesday and was upset because Showtime did not notify him of Thursday's teleconference, wouldn't discuss the specifics of the injury.
"Andre is out of the tournament because we don't know when he will be available to fight or if he will be available at all," Shaw said. "I hope he's OK, that's the most important thing."
Lawson said he and his father had been concerned about Dirrell since the fight with Abraham.
"He just wasn't the same since that fight," Lawson said. "That's what it's from. It happened in the Abraham fight. The problems definitely came from that. It's not something someone else would notice, but we're family and we noticed things after the Abraham fight. This was something me and my father discussed. So when Andre came to us and told me, my father, his brother [pro fighter Anthony Dirrell] and his wife, it alarmed us because it was already something we were thinking."
Lawson said that Dirrell suffered a concussion against Abraham and that when he recently saw a neurologist, he underwent a battery of tests, including a CAT scan and MRI and MRA exams.
"And the neurologist determined he was unable to fight," Lawson said. "Andre wanted to fight and get back in the ring like any normal fighter. They want to fight. But what's most important is his safety. That's my whole thing. Even his attitude now, we had to tell him, 'Man, you better respect this game.' He just wants to fight, but we told him we got to respect the doctor's opinion. This is not nothing to play with. It's really not a game.
"Of course, Andre is disappointed with it. He just wants to fight. We sat down and told him this is something that has to happen. He has to take a break and maybe come back at a later date."
The first Group Stage 3 bout takes place Nov. 6 with Glen Johnson, who replaced Kessler on Sept. 29, facing Allan Green, who replaced Taylor after Group Stage 1.
Abraham and Carl Froch meet in another Group Stage 3 fight on Nov. 27 in Helsinki, Finland, on the same broadcast on which Ward will fight an opponent to be determined.
"The wind gets taken out of the sails for sure," Hershman said of upheaval. "I can't argue with that. I feel like that. I am sure the fans feel like that."