ENOUGH is enough: we’ve spoken far too much about Oleksandr Usyk’s belly button. As a collective group, we boxing nuts have devoted a worrying amount of energy to debating where the Ukrainian’s navel begins and ends, and whether or not Daniel Dubois walloped him there on Saturday night. The context of this doesn’t need to be explained; if you’re reading this column, you’re already aware of the ongoing debate around the punch that floored Usyk in the fifth round of his fight with Dubois.
And the reason you’re painfully aware is because the debate has been constant. And loud. That’s how the discussion of any sport, but particularly boxing, happens now: nuance is a thing of the past, and in its place are big, bold, bloody REACTIONS. In a landscape where attention is the most valuable currency, you’re not allowed to have a balanced take, you need to have a REACTION. And it’s even better if it’s RAW.
Now, if there’s anyone whose reaction could be described as ‘raw’ (whatever that means in the context of someone’s opinion), it’s those calling the fight in real time. In this instance, for UK viewers, that was the TNT Sports commentary team and, to an extent, their punditry squad. In the moment, Carl Frampton was adamant the blow Dubois landed should have been deemed legal and he made his thoughts very clear. Steve Bunce later agreed with him on air. They are both extremely experienced and well-respected voices within boxing, so what they say about the punch is going to carry a fair amount of weight with those watching (more on that later).
For the record, the shot was illegal. Slowed down footage of clear angles show that Dubois’ glove makes first impact below the beltline. But watching it live, it wasn’t immediately clear cut either way and the camera angles provided weren’t too helpful, so TNT had a difficult job on their hands. And whether or not you agree with Frampton and Bunce, they did their job: they called it as they saw it. Frampton – once again proving that he is a pundit worth listening to – has since taken to social media and explained that he has now watched the punch land from numerous angles and can see both sides of the argument.
That’s how reactions should work – if you realise, by looking at more evidence, that your initial reaction was off the mark, then you take the opportunity to address it and posit a more nuanced and informed opinion.
Then we have the chicken and egg question. If the commentary – not just on TNT but ESPN+ as well – had not made such a fuss about the punch potentially being legal, would there have even been much of a discussion about it? What’s clear from scouring social media and online forums is that an alarming amount of people don’t think for themselves, but instead are led by what they’ve heard on the broadcast. A common theme was that folks initially thought referee Luis Pabon had made the right call in deeming the punch illegal, but then second-guessed their instincts once those on the broadcast questioned it.
The other issue is also a lack of understanding about the rules. Most people aren’t going to know the exact rules on low blows off the top of their head – in fact, many seem to think that for a blow to be illegal it needs to be a direct shot to the gonads. This is where TNT perhaps could have made things clearer during the broadcast, though Frampton did try to explain the rules as best he could.
The main takeaway from this is that we all just need to calm down a bit.
The only other thing to note about the broadcast (and this isn’t the fault of TNT or even ESPN) was just how awful the undercard was. Having Aadam Hamed (son of Naseem) box in his first ever fight, amateur or professional, against an undersized teenager in the chief support was atrocious. This trend of propping up the offspring of famous fighters so late on major shows has to stop.
Now it’s time to talk about narratives, and who benefits from them. Incidents like this one are like gold dust for YouTube channels. The more something can be stirred up as some sort of controversy – or better yet, a conspiracy – the more content can be milked from it. And this isn’t just true for YouTube channels, but also other accounts on social media who thrive off of debates and contention. Keep that in mind when you keep seeing video interviews and social media posts perpetuating the notion that Dubois was somehow cheated – it’s in the interests of those producing that content for the discussion to go on as long as possible.
Then make sure you’re paying attention to who is speaking in this content, and what narrative they want to control. Immediately after the fight Dubois’ team, including promoter Frank Warren, were expressing their outrage about the referee’s decision. They’ve insisted they will be appealing for an immediate rematch.
Don Charles, Dubois’ trainer, sat down with IFL TV the day after the fight and fired off some brazen and unfounded accusations at Usyk. First, he questioned Usyk’s Christian faith and then declared that he is just as bad as a drugs cheat. He declared that Usyk ‘conned’ the referee and that he had done the same in his rematch with Anthony Joshua.
Those are just ridiculous things to say and shame on the interviewer for not challenging him on them. Charles has every right to feel disappointed about how the fight panned out and it’s admirable that he wants to defend his charge so passionately, but that doesn’t give him the right to say such demonstrably false and inflammatory things about another fighter.
Boxing on the Box
Lyndon Arthur-Braian Nahuel Suarez
Coverage begins at 9pm
Liam Smith-Chris Eubank Jnr
Sky Sports Box Office
Coverage begins at 7pm