Daniel Dubois, 23, in training
After just 36 seconds of round 10, Daniel Dubois crossed a blurred line in boxing when he backed off, dropped to his knee and sat out the full count.
The young heavyweight was just 23 at the time, had been fighting for five or six rounds with his left eye completely closed and had absolutely no defence against the punches Joe Joyce was throwing.
That was in late November, the damage was done to his career, the diagnosis on the eye was grim and the gentle path back to the ring started. There was conflict in the post-fight judgment; he was accused of cowardice and he was praised for saving his career. In a sport dominated by agendas and financial associations, it is not uncommon for people to have conflicting and contradictory opinions.
It has been a long journey since that night, with a few confusing twists and turns, and nobody in the boxing business, the Dubois business or the medical business knows what will happen when the first bell sounds on Saturday night. Dubois fights rugged Romanian Bogdan Dinu, a good test for an injured boxer’s return – to be fair, just getting back in the ring is the test.
The fight with Joyce was meant to be the Dubois show. Dubois was the favourite with the bookies and the pundits; it was all about Joyce being too old, too slow and too predictable. It can be denied now, but Dubois was meant to walk through Joyce in about six rounds and then push for a heavyweight title fight. Dubois had a high, high ranking with the WBO. As a necessary footnote to non-boxing readers, it is wise to remember that there is no science in boxing rankings – boxers are given high or low rankings after some intense cattle-trading by men and women representing the promoters. Yep, it’s that simple. It’s that comical.
Dubois had the profile and the hope, but Joyce was simply too good on the night. He moved sensibly, avoided wild lunges, countered with precision and jabbed, jabbed and jabbed. Dubois’ left eye had signs of damage from about the second, was closing by the third. Joyce stuck with his task, crashing in jabs and sending a reminder that 3/1 outsiders in important fights can never be ignored. Joyce, incidentally, has not fought since that night and a planned WBO heavyweight title fight against Oleksandr Usyk has been sunk by the talk of Usyk fighting Anthony Joshua. Boxing is both cruel and unfair, make no mistake.
Dubois met with eye consultants, his career genuinely was in the balance, the scans would reveal the damage and explain the future. It was tense. Kell Brook twice broke an orbital bone and was allowed to box, Anthony Ogogo did it once and was refused. In the next few weeks we will find out if Billy Joe Saunders can continue to fight after his orbital fracture surgery. The news was good: Dubois had suffered medial and orbital floor fractures and retinal bleeding, but he could continue to fight. He saved his career, make no mistake, by taking the knee. There is no way he could have survived eight more minutes. It took guts to take that knee. Incidentally, Martin Bowers in his corner was going to pull him out after the 10th.
Once he had permission to fight, Dubois decided to leave long-time trainer Bowers and work with Shane McGuigan. They had a good week and then Dubois switched to Mark Tibbs, but a few weeks ago Tibbs released him because of other commitments and Dubois went back happily to McGuigan. The pair seem content. McGuigan also does a bit of work with Caroline Dubois, the boxer’s sister, who is hoping to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Dubois is in fine form now, the loss forgotten, the defeat not something that haunts his darkest hours. He sounds and looks at peace. There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders, some golden expectation and then the abuse in defeat was harsh. The reality is that after 15 easy wins, including 14 stoppages, Dubois finally met a man who refused to fall over. Joyce broke Dubois on the night, even if two of the judges had Dubois up at the time of the sudden ending.
“It was difficult at the time, but I have made some decisions and I just need to get back in the ring – this feels like a fresh start,” insisted Dubois. He is certainly saying all the right things; a loss was never considered a terminal obstacle in a boxer’s career and it should not be viewed that way now.
On Saturday, Dubois is under tremendous pressure to win. It is the type of pressure he probably needed before losing to Joyce on a night when he found out the painful way that boxing is not always easy.