The Daniel Dubois vs Joe Joyce heavyweight clash should restore fans’ faith in the sport, writes Matt Christie
A FEW hours before two legends of the past stumble into an exhibition so insane it defies belief, two unbeaten British heavyweights clash in a fight that’s almost too good to be true in comparrison. If 54-year-old Mike Tyson vs 51-year-old Roy Jones speaks of a business that will do almost anything for hard cash, then Daniel Dubois vs Joe Joyce should restore our faith in boxing as a legitimate sport.
Both events will be broadcast live in the UK on BT Sport on Saturday night (November 28). Tyson-Jones will cost you just shy of 20 quid on BT Sport Box Office but you can watch one of the very best fights to be made in the heavyweight division as part of your subscription. Promoter Frank Warren had long stated that Dubois-Joyce could only be made with the assistance of pay-per-view revenue but Tyson and Jones coming out of retirement changed things, it appears. Cynics may grumble that to UK audiences Dubois-Joyce is a now a smokescreen for the price tag attached to Tyson-Jones and they’ll have a point. But they’d be doing so while drinking from a half-empty glass: Even if it is shamelessly being used as a primetime platform to sell the car crash in the early hours, those only interested in the real boxing unquestionably have the better deal.
Tyson-Jones contains two household names who made their mark decades ago but two fifty-somethings hauling themselves back into the hardest game, however admirable that might be on the surface, deserves no more than a passing glance when examining their place in history. Dubois-Joyce is an altogether more important stop in their respective journeys and will prove, we hope, infinitely more worthwhile.
The five-star matchup will be the first time professional boxing has been staged inside the lavish but cosy setting of Westminster’s Church House, a Grade II-listed building with links to parliament, royalty and the Second World War. The 12-round contest also nods respectfully to pugilism’s past. Dubois’ British and Commonwealth titles are at stake alongside the vacant European belt; though fights for all three championships were once fairly common, this is first time they have all been on the line at heavyweight since Lennox Lewis defeated Derek Williams way back in 1992. In short, Dubois vs Joyce is what boxing does best and should always be about: Two evenly matched fighters coming together to decide who is superior and who moves forward.
The winner can take their place alongside Oleksandr Usyk, Deontay Wilder, Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte in a chasing pack just below Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. Furthermore, such is the demand for heavyweight warfare, it’s exceptionally unlikely that defeat will mark the end of the road for the loser.
“It’s an exciting time for the division,” Dubois observed while in conversation with Boxing News. “All of those other guys that are fighting at this time are future opponents, ones that I can focus on after I’ve beaten Joe Joyce. I’m so excited to make my mark. I want to do it all, win all the titles and be remembered as one of the best. I want to go into the Hall of Fame one day.”
Dubois’ ambition is just as ferocious and impressive as his physical gifts. The pre-fight favourite has long dreamed of becoming world heavyweight king. He is 23 years old, his record reads 15-0 (14) and those blistering KOs decorate his highlight reel like the rippling muscles on his physique. The archetypal heavyweight slugger, Dubois is naturally quiet outside the ring and he’s generated attention purely for his exploits within it.
“If we keep this boy’s feet on the ground, the public can have a bit of fun with him,” his trainer Martin Bowers told Boxing News. “Look at Frank Bruno becoming a national treasure. I’m not saying that will happen with Dan but us as British people love the humble and respectful people. That’s what we want. You don’t need to be going on You Tube and saying bad things. Dan puts the work in, we all do, but we don’t need to shout about it.”
That’s a rare thing in Boxing 2020: Dubois doesn’t enjoy being interviewed and you won’t find him trash-talking on social media to grab the headlines. All Dubois wants to do is fight.
“The interviews do get on my nerves,” Dubois admitted with a chuckle as the phone was handed to him and another strange voice asking the same old questions appeared in his ear. “They’re not my thing. Can you imagine Muhammad Ali dealing with this?”
Signed by Frank Warren when Dubois decided to go professional due to a perceived lack of opportunities as an amateur, the young hotshot has steadily improved and, importantly, paid heed to the lessons on offer along the way.
In his ninth fight he was forced to go 10 rounds by wily old survivor Kevin Johnson. In that contest, young Dubois showed good stamina but lacked the experience and education to force the stoppage that Anthony Joshua managed when he bludgeoned Johnson to defeat in two rounds three years before. There was a lack of variety, a failure to go to the body when Johnson was defending up high and a habit of loading up too heavily on every shot.
With the support of his boxing-mad family and the tireless coaching from the Peacock Gym’s Bowers – one of the most level-headed trainers in the sport – Dubois is now a markedly more rounded boxer with not even the slightest chip on his enormous shoulders.
Patient and calculating, the Londoner now appears to recognise when to unleash his frightening power and when to keep things simple. As hungry to learn as he is to fight, Dubois showed off his all-round prowess while systematically beating up revered prospect Nathan Gorman and stopping him in six rounds last year to win the British title.
But in boxing, particularly when dealing with a heavyweight prospect, one of the biggest pitfalls of them all is impatience. Mike Tyson looms large over this promotion, not only as an old man coming back, but as that young 20-year-old savage who arrived in 1986. Ever since, such is the desire to replicate the excitement and riches Tyson generated, any young giant with a knack for the spectacular find themselves being compared to him. But there are substantially more busts than Mike Tysons in a division inherently over-eager to birth a new superstar. Dubois has been highly touted since he turned professional in 2017 yet he remains a work in progress. There can be no doubt that Joyce represents a huge step up in class.
The 11-0 (10) Joyce might be at a similar stage of his professional career to Dubois but he’s beatable, we’re told, because he’s 12 years older and rarely makes it through a fight without proving he can take a punch. At 35, he isn’t going to get much better and any hopes of adding elusiveness to his game are long gone. In contrast, Dubois is improving with every fight.
Those ageing and hittable bones are why Joyce is a clear underdog (3/1 at the time of writing) but educated punters looking for value may prefer to listen to Joe’s assessment of the odds rather than the bookmakers who compiled them.
“It’s crazy [that I’m the underdog],” Joe told BN. “I guess because he’s been built so well and he’s been knocking out guys that it seems to the casual fan that he’s a very dangerous and a damaging prospect so credit to him. But he’s going to have a bigger fall when he loses.
“Yeah, I’m easy to hit. But there’s going to be a lot more shots coming back at him than he’s ever received before and there will power behind those shots. It takes a lot of attributes to be world heavyweight champion and I believe I have what it takes to beat him at this stage of mine and his career.”
Joyce’s style can be described as crude but it’s been incredibly effective through his many years in the trade. His experience and accomplishments are greater than Dubois’. As an amateur he was perennially among the very best in the world, ultimately winning silver at the 2016 Olympics after being contentiously pipped by Tony Yoka in the final.
“You can’t compare this fight to the Olympics, come on,” Joyce scoffed. “Maybe when I’m fighting for the world heavyweight title in front of a crowd it will come close.”
While Dubois feels like this is his biggest challenge to date, Joyce does not. Before he went to the Olympics, he competed in the World Series of Boxing, the five-round pro and amateur hybrid, with the likes of Usyk and Filip Hrgovic (losing and winning decisions respectively). As a professional, Joyce has beaten Bryant Jennings, Alexander Ustinov, Joe Hanks, Lenroy Thomas and Bermane Stiverne.
“There is no concern about Joe Joyce’s experience at all, I don’t listen to none of that,” countered a bullish Dubois. “I look forward to beating him, to breaking him. I respect him but there’s nothing for me to fear against him. Defeat has never once entered my mind, not even when I’ve been asleep. I only think about victory. I only think of how I’m going to beat Joe Joyce. I could not pinpoint one thing about him that worries me.”
Dubois’ indifferent opinion on a fighter he sparred back in their amateur days is likely to change, and change quickly, if he repeatedly connects with his right hand and Joyce merely walks through it and continues to throw back. Many who are convinced that Dubois wins are banking on his power to get the job done. Those who go the other way prefer Joyce’s undoubted durability and the clubbing punches he puts together himself. When predicting this fight, it’s easy to go one way and then the other in a short space of time: The case for Dubois hitting too hard and too often is just as convincing as Joyce being made of sterner stuff.
History favours Joyce. A fighter who has thrived in top-level amateur competition nearly always trumps a comparatively unproven force. But Joyce isn’t exactly the finest example of a boxer with years of experience under his belt; even now he could be mistaken for a fearless barroom slugger with clumsy feet and little capacity for change. Similarly, Dubois – a lifelong lover of the sport who dedicates his every waking moment to it – is no raw novice; if you knew nothing of their histories and watched them both fight for the first time, it would be reasonable to assume that it was the more polished Dubois who had the superior education. The younger fighter boxing clever for 12 rounds and winning on points is certainly an outcome to consider.
What makes this contest even more appealing is the fallibilities of both. Richard Lartey wobbled Dubois in 2019 while Jennings showed Joyce doesn’t like being whacked to the body as much as he enjoys being thumped in the face.
As a contest, a spectacle and a meaningful fight, it’s beautifully poised. If the older man doesn’t get overwhelmed early, it’s likely that Dubois will be forced to deal with the nightmarish proposition Joyce has proved to be to all of his opponents to date.
Over in California, Tyson and Jones might be cause for a different kind of night terror. If the thought of those two old men getting in a ring and trying to fight bothers you, and it certainly bothers us, there can be no better tonic than Dubois vs Joyce. Watch it, enjoy it, save your pennies and turn out the lights. It will be morning before you know it.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
THE winner of Dubois v Joyce has an outside chance of fighting for a version of the world heavyweight title in their next bout. The World Boxing Organisation currently place Oleksandr Usyk as their mandatory contender to champion Anthony Joshua. Dubois sits just behind them at number two, with Joyce down the list at 11. Should Joshua (presuming he gets past Kubrat Pulev on December 12) decide to relinquish the belt so he can focus on an all-conquering clash with Tyson Fury, then it follows that Dubois or Joyce might be matched with Usyk for the vacant title.