Alan Hubbard

With Olympic boxing, if not quite under threat then certainly the subject of serious scrutiny, it was heartening to hear the 35-year-old Rio super heavyweight silver medallist Joe Joyce explaining just how valuable his experience in amateur boxing, and particularly the Games, contributed to his shock conquest of the young British, Commonwealth and European champion Daniel Dubois at the weekend.

Joyce’s tactical nous, based on the years learning his craft, enabled him to nullify the renowned left jab and thunderbolt right of his fellow south Londoner and use his own jab so effectively that it caused such grotesque damage around Dubois’s left eye that it caused him to quit, deliberately going down on one knee in an unspoken ‘no mas’ 36 seconds after the start of the tenth round.

Now a huge controversy rages over whether the champion, in the parlance, lost his "bottle" and that he evoked that old boxing adage "once a quitter always a quitter." Yet one could not easily dismiss the heavy handiwork of Joyce in creating the situation.

This is not to say he would have won the fight if the bewildered Dubois had been able to see out of it. The judges were split in the scoring at that stage and I had them level in an absorbing "holy war" in the ornate setting of Church House in Westminster.

Dubois was a 4-1 on favourite with the bookies and most had underrated Joyce’s capability which, as he said afterwards, had steadily matured since electing to remain amateur until he reached the Olympic final and fell foul of the judges against the Frenchman Tony Yoka.

"You can’t beat that sort of experience," Joyce said as he celebrated his unlikely victory afterwards.

"I believe I simply knew too much for him and I am so grateful that I decided to delay turning professional (where he was unbeaten in a dozen contests) until I had competed in the Olympics. The Games gave me a great grounding for my future professional career. I don’t think I could have done this without them."

He can now look forward to a world title fight some time next year and there are plenty of possible opportunities, including more domestic dustups like this with current titleholders Tyson Fury or his Olympic gold medal predecessor Anthony Joshua.

They both currently have previous commitments first so Joyce’s initial preference would be a bout with undefeated and undisputed cruiserweight czar Ukrainian Olexandr Usyk, now campaigning as a heavyweight.

“Get me Usyk. Usyk” he chanted afterwards before the happy-go-lucky new triple champ whose greatest weapon is his own chin added “Bring him on."

Joyce had peppered his opponent’s left eye with his own superb jab from the second round, gradually closing shut while diffusing Dynamite Dan, who got little opportunity to detonate his explosive right.

Joyce lived up to his tag as “The Juggernaut”, ploughing forward, impassively blinking away anything Dubois attempted to throw at him.

Daniel Dubois took a knee in the tenth round of his fight with Joe Joyce after Joyce's punches led to him losing a significant amount of vision out of his left eye ©Getty Images
Daniel Dubois took a knee in the tenth round of his fight with Joe Joyce after Joyce's punches led to him losing a significant amount of vision out of his left eye ©Getty Images

Dubois eventually succumbed, stepping backwards and taking the knee, then surprising everyone by staying down until the referee, Ian John Lewis, had tolled the full ten count.

Three seconds after Joyce had been declared the winner, the three belts wrapped around him, came the howls of derision from many in the game, accusing him of "swallowing it."

Carl Frampton, a two-weight world champion, one of the BT pundits declared: ”You would’ve had to drag me out of the ring before I did anything like that.” 

Alongside him another former world champion, heavyweight David Haye, who is a former advisor to Joyce said: "I was very unhappy with the way Dubois took the knee. I would rather get knocked out," while Chris Eubank Junior described Dubois’s apparent humility as "disgusting".

The cruel condemnation of the humbled Dubois continued thick and fast. There were those who reminded us of the bravery of fighters through the ages, from Carmen Basilio against Sugar Ray Robinson through to Gary Mason against Lennox Lewis, who had suffered similar or even worse, injuries, and even those with fractured jaws, broken or dislocated arms who had carried on regardless, protesting when the referee insisted it was time the punishment ceased.

I do not go along with those among my fellow scribes who virtually labelled Dubois a coward. In the main those courageous protagonists they named were seasoned old pros whose careers were behind them, and had little to lose – except perhaps their eyesight. 

We must remember that while Dubois was British champion he was also, it must be said, relatively a novice of 15 fights with little or no amateur experience behind him.

What happened in this contest was something alien to him, never before had he been hit and hurt and it was understandable that he might panic when unable to see enough to block the punches coming at him.

The mistake he made, I believe, was not in going down on one knee, but staying down. What he should have done was get up around eight when the referee would have been obliged to ask him: “Are you okay?”

He should have replied “I can’t see out of the eye” and the contest would have had to be stopped allowing him to leave the ring with some dignity rather than derision. In any case we learned afterwards that Dubois’ trainer Martin Bowers, who had between rounds told his increasingly disheartened fighter "this is the fight game" would have halted the fight at the end of the round.

That eye could not have withstood a further eight minutes or so of rapid artillery. It surely would have caused irreparable damage and finished Dubois’s career.

Promoter Frank Warren even suggested that Dubois might have been thinking intelligently along those lines. As it was, Dubois was hospitalised at Moorfields overnight with a broken eye socket and severe damage to vital nerves at the back of the eye and surgeons said had he continued his career could have been over.

Dubois battled on despite the injury to his left eye before eventually succumbing in round ten against Joyce ©Getty Images
Dubois battled on despite the injury to his left eye before eventually succumbing in round ten against Joyce ©Getty Images

The unwritten lore of the fight game is that you should be carried out on your shield, which often means a stretcher. That may well have been OK for the gladiatorial days of the Coliseum but surely not the Church Hall, Westminster.

Those who condemned Dubois should recall another British Olympian, Anthony Ogogo who retired in 2019 – three years and nine operations after he broke his eye socket and fought eight rounds with just 22 per cent vision.

The way the bout concluded indicated that Dubois, so highly touted as the world’s outstanding young heavyweight, has a lot to learn, and we also have much more to learn about him before judging whether he has the heart for battle or not.

If the wound is successfully repaired we should see him resume in the spring. If Joyce is unable to secure the matches he wants there is also the possibility of a return with Dubois which would sell out London’s O2, as originally intended, when fans can return to the sport.

Talking of which there will be up to 1000 spectators this Saturday when promoter Warren continues the celebration of his 40 years in boxing with another humdinger of a fight, again at Church House between light heavyweights Anthony Yarde and Lyndon Arthur, to be televised by BT

This is permitted under the relaxing of the COVID regulations by the Government and Warren has decided to distribute the tickets free among Chelsea Pensioners and workers who have been instrumental in keeping things going during the pandemic.

At last there will be a bit of a roar from the crowd in another hard fought contest in which Yarde, who fought if fiercely, ultimately unsuccessfully, in Russia for the world title against Sergey Kovalev is, like Dubois, a firm favourite, but, like Joyce, Arthur is excellent with a great jab. There might well be another upset.

And so to that other weekend “war” if you can call it that in Los Angeles between former champions Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr. I chose not to watch it – certainly not on pay-per-view - as I believe the ring is no country for old men.

I saw both in their prime, particularly when Iron Mike was the baddest man on the planet, and not among the saddest.

Inevitably this exhibition turned out to be a draw, and 54-year-old Tyson threatens to continue his antique roadshow against Evander Holyfield or even Lennox Lewis. Like Dubois, I prefer to be counted out.