LOS ANGELES — Anthony Dirrell is a world champion whose place in boxing history is secure — win, lose or draw — on Saturday at Staples Center against David Benavidez in their WBC super middleweight title bout. When you beat cancer and come back to win a championship, there isn’t much else you have to do to prove yourself.
Dirrell, though, is proving himself in a different way.
Five years after the humanitarian crisis in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, was exposed to the world, Dirrell’s efforts to provide assistance have never wavered. He and his brother, Andre, have donated literally truckloads of bottled water so residents have clean water to drink.
Several members of his family have lead poisoning from drinking water from the contaminated supply in Flint. Because Flint is a poor city with a large minority population, the inadequate efforts of the state and federal government have been met largely with a shrug by Americans whose attention quickly shifted to other events. Had it been a rich, white suburb that had such an issue, the anger and vitriol would have been over the top and changes would have been made instantly.
Dirrell just shrugs at the lack of outrage. He’s sadly used to the disparity in this country.
About a decade ago, he was arrested and spent 24 hours in jail in Flint on suspicion of bank robbery in a case of mistaken identity.
“I was in a burnt orange Dodge Charger,” said Dirrell, who was heading to a chemotherapy treatment when he was pulled over by police and arrested for a robbery he had nothing to do with.
“They were following me. I saw them in the mirror, and it went on for quite a while. And then they pulled me over and there were police all over the place.”
A black male was suspected of the robbery, so at least on that one very broad trait, Dirrell matched the description. That, though, was precious little to go on, particularly because the suspected robber was driving a maroon Dodge.
Dirrell was released without incident 24 hours later, and he only discusses the story because it was brought up to him. He’s not bitter, though he did note that the sheriff never apologized to him for the mistake.
His love for his city and his desire to help has never abated. He’s in the process of having a Boys & Girls Club built in Flint that will cost $500,000, which he’s funded with a combination of his own money and donations he’s solicited.
“Flint has been so special to me and the people have supported me so well, this is something I feel I need to do to give back,” he said.
He’s going to be 35 in two weeks, and knows he’s coming to the end of a fabulous career. No matter what else he does in his career, his name will forever be remembered after he overcame cancer to win a world title. He’s 33-1-1 with 24 knockouts and is in his second stint as a super middleweight world champion. In February, he won the title that was stripped from Benavidez for failing a drug test when Dirrell won a technical split decision over Avni Yildrim.
Before that fight, he said he was going to retire, no matter the outcome, but after he won the belt, he had second thoughts. But he has three sons and he knows the end is near. He’s financially set for life after investing his money well and said it kills him to miss important moments in his children’s lives because he was in training camp.
“I missed my son’s first basketball game and I felt like the worst parent,” Dirrell said. “I know that he’s able to have these opportunities and do all these things because of what I’m doing, but you want to be there for those things.”
He plans to talk to his wife, Shondrika, after this fight to determine his future, because they’re a team, he says, and she’s as involved as he is.
He trained for the fight at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas and was amazed by what he saw.
“I went to Vegas [to train] because I needed to get out of my comfort zone,” Dirrell said. “I needed to go some place where I was far away from everybody and secluded and focus on the task at hand, and that’s David. The UFC, man, it was more than I imagined. Literally, it was more than I imagined and it was a great facility, great people. I met [UFC president] Dana White there. He was great. They have everything in-house. Everything that you need is in-house and I think — I don’t think, I know — that’s one of the best gyms I’ve ever been to in combat sports ever. The gym is just tremendous.”
Though Benavidez is considered one of the rising stars in the sport, Dirrell feels everything has fallen into place for him and he believes he’ll win by stoppage.
There wouldn’t be a better way to go out than by teaching a future star a thing or two about the sport and leaving as a champion, and Dirrell is confident he’s done what he can to be ready.
“My training camp in Las Vegas was spectacular,” he said. “It’s all about taking yourself out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to the max to be successful at this elite level. I don’t think this fight is going the distance, and I know I’m going to have my hand raised at the end. He got dropped with a jab, and I hit harder than Ronald Gavril.”
His long-term legacy won’t be as a great fighter and two-time world champion, though. It will be much more significant than that.
It will be as a cancer survivor who saw suffering in his community and devoted himself to trying to heal it. He’s a champion in the ring and an undisputed champion as a citizen of this world.
More from Yahoo Sports: