FOR any parent there comes a time when they must decide whether to continue enforcing strict rules on their child or simply resign themselves to the fact that there is perhaps no better way for a child to learn than from their own mistakes. Conditioned, or so it seems, to wanting to break rules rather than follow them, and always wanting to do things ahead of schedule, it hardly matters when they are told they can and cannot drink, drive, smoke, or have sex, for they will ultimately find a time that suits them; a time that will, without fail, be seen as premature in the eyes of their parents.
In boxing, this same trend can be witnessed, only the dangers are the fights and the parents are the promoters. Still, though, the principle remains, and still the promoters must know when to hold a boxer back and when, with a reluctant shrug, they must let them be true to their nature and find out the hard way.
This, it would appear, is precisely what the universe has in store for Daniel Dubois on Saturday (August 26) in Poland, when, although ill-equipped for it, he will share a ring with the formidable Oleksandr Usyk.
Suffice it to say, it has come early for Dubois, this fight. Furthermore, when looking at the two heavyweights’ records and achievements on paper, it is hard to think of another sport that would throw together two mismatched contestants like this and have the audacity to call it world championship-level competition. That’s not to say Usyk isn’t at that level, of course, because he plainly is, and it’s not even to say Dubois can’t one day reach that level, too, because he can, but as of today these two heavyweights are so far apart in terms of experience it is hard to imagine them competing as equals in a ring or anywhere else.
At heavyweight one might argue that such a disparity is negligible. It takes just one punch, after all, and Dubois, with 18 knockouts from 19 wins, clearly possesses power. Also, in the context of the heavyweight division, it could be said that Usyk, with only four pro fights to his name at that weight, is no more experienced there than Dubois. That’s not necessarily the truth, particularly given the Ukrainian’s experience as an amateur heavyweight, but it does reduce the uneasiness somewhat to know Dubois, for all his inexperience, is at least a bona fide heavyweight who has spent his entire professional career in that weight class.
Dubois, 19-1 (18), isn’t just a heavyweight, either. According to the World Boxing Association (WBA), the Londoner has, for the last 14 months, been the WBA “Regular” heavyweight champion of the world, which is a belt that means both everything and nothing. It means nothing in the sense that it is not a genuine world title, yet it means everything in the sense that it has elevated Dubois to this false position and landed him a shot against Usyk, the “proper” champion.
In that respect the WBA “Regular” belt, whereas once seen as a gift, now appears almost cruel. For without this title, this poisoned chalice, Dubois could have been allowed to progress at his own pace and arrive at this kind of stage at the right time and with all his boxes ticked. Instead, he is, thanks to that belt, next in line to challenge the real champion – this in itself is a concept as ludicrous as it sounds – and essentially given a choice: Do you want the fight now or not?
Being a fighter, and a game one at that, Dubois was never likely to say no. Moreover, given the money presumably on the table here, it would be foolish of a heavyweight like Dubois, someone whose level is not yet known, to knock back the opportunity on the assumption that it will one day come again. Who knows, it may not. Indeed, so lacking is Dubois in both credentials and experience, we can’t be sure whether he is the heir apparent or just another British heavyweight talked up a lot in the early days only to then flatter to deceive when in against the best. To not know something like that at this stage, when Dubois is on the cusp of fighting arguably the best heavyweight in the world, says a lot. It says a lot about both Dubois’ courage and also the dangers of having so many “world titles” in the sport.
Speaking of courage, there was plenty of that on display in Dubois’ last showing, a third-round stoppage of Kevin Lerena in December. That night, having injured his knee, Dubois found himself on the deck three times in the very first round before somehow pulling himself together and getting his South African opponent out of there in the third. Hardly ideal, either the start, the injury, or when viewed as an unofficial semi-final before meeting Oleksandr Usyk, Dubois became embroiled in an up-and-down war which was, in the cold light of day, closer to Commonwealth title level than anything resembling world level.
Even before that, on the night he won his WBA “Regular” strap, Dubois was seen pummeling the unknown and unsteady Trevor Bryan in a Miami casino in a fight as easy as it was meaningless. And yet, scream the promoters and sanctioning body presidents, how on earth can it be “meaningless” when it delivered Dubois the world title he craved for so long? How can it be “meaningless” when it set him on a path to fighting Oleksandr Usyk in 2023?
Well, the truth is, this is boxing and in boxing things can be both true and untrue; both right and wrong. Certainly, in the case of Dubois and his WBA reign, he will have learned far less in so-called “world title” wins against Bryan and Lerena than he will have done in previous British title fights against Joe Joyce, to whom he lost inside 10 rounds, and Nathan Gorman, whom he stopped in five. Scarier still, those two opponents, Joyce and Gorman, are arguably superior to the men Dubois faced in the aforementioned “world title” wins.
Joyce, without doubt, would stop both. In fact, such was the lesson Joyce dished out to Dubois in 2020, it is hard to view Dubois’ subsequent progress and overall potential in quite the same way, at least until he either beats Joyce in a return or conquers a problem of similar difficulty. That, alas, Dubois has yet to do and even his career-best win, which probably remains that stoppage of Gorman in 2019, is a result that has got worse rather than better over time, what with Gorman since being stopped by Fabio Wardley inside three rounds.
That’s all fine, by the way, and, at 25, Dubois has no reason to panic, nor prove anything to anyone. Yet the issue is, having taken this softly-softly approach to rehabilitation, to now U-turn and fight someone like Usyk is about as jarring a switch in approach as you can possibly imagine. Frankly, it seems to fly in the face of everything Dubois was trying to achieve post-Joyce and, in effect, accelerates his progress at a time when he was just starting to find both his feet and his groove again.
For Usyk, meanwhile, there can be no greater sight than Dubois arriving prematurely. Because for all Dubois’ size, strength and power, Usyk will know, having twice defeated Anthony Joshua, he has already as a heavyweight encountered and overcome similar types; and more refined ones, too. For him, this will likely seem a step down of sorts, returning him to levels pre-Joshua when he was boxing men like Derek Chisora and Chazz Witherspoon, and it will certainly seem a step down when taking into account the fact he could have been fighting Tyson Fury this year.
It will be imperative, then, that Usyk, now 36, guards against complacency and gives Dubois the respect he deserves. Likely the Brit’s power alone, which is significant, should guarantee that. Also, one suspects that because Usyk knows there is still big money to be made against one or two other heavyweights, he will no doubt treat this fight no differently than all the others.
As for those others, Usyk, in amassing a record of 20-0 (13), has been almost perfect since turning pro in 2013. At cruiserweight he was the best we have seen since Evander Holyfield, while at heavyweight he has, within just four fights, rounded up three belts and twice beaten Anthony Joshua.
The most recent Joshua fight took place this time last year and some, those eager to encourage Joshua, will have you believe Joshua pushed Usyk closer in the rematch than he did first time around. To some extent this is true as well, and he did definitely hurt Usyk at one stage, yet there is no denying, either, that Usyk had, barring that one moment, almost complete control of Joshua and was able to find an answer to every single problem the Brit tried to present.
In some ways, although we had seen it before, it was eye-opening to witness the ease with which Usyk toyed with Joshua at times, leading him this way and that, poking and prodding him before then unleashing something heavier. Composed, always, even when on the back foot and under fire, Usyk appeared more than content in the presence of a bigger man and was able to find freedom and joy in moving around a heavyweight and using his quicker hands to tag the parts of him he wanted to tag. At cruiserweight, of course, where opponents were smaller and faster, Usyk had to be wary of counterpunches and combinations coming back at him, whereas now, at heavyweight, all he needs to worry about is the power; a concern hardly exclusive to him.
With Dubois, this concern will remain and will surely be enough to keep Usyk alert and on his toes. Yet with Dubois, also, you are dealing with a man slower than Anthony Joshua and someone who has still to go 12 rounds in a boxing ring. That, more than anything, could have a bearing on how Dubois approaches this fight. It would be insanity, after all, to think he can pace himself and box with Usyk for any amount of time. Equally, though, if Dubois’ best route to victory is to be aggressive and try to make a dent early, he then runs the risk of either being caught on the way in or blowing a gasket and finding himself exhausted by the halfway mark.
Either way, it is a tough balance to strike for Dubois, especially given his total lack of experience. This, should you need reminding, is all very new to him; new to him just as it is old hat to Usyk. Its newness won’t be enough to stop Dubois winning the fight, no, for that is something he can do with just a single shot, but it will limit him somewhat in terms of how he goes about landing that one shot and it will, long before Usyk gets to work, create in his mind the kind of doubt that wouldn’t have been there had this fight been happening at the right time.
That it is not is something Dubois and his team will have to ignore until, as expected, it is proven once and for all. This could happen in the form of a lopsided decision win for Usyk, which seems the safe bet, or, if the challenger gets his tactics completely wrong, we could see Usyk stop Dubois in the second half of the fight, somewhere around the ninth.