LAST YEAR, the boxing hype machine dangled a series of fights in front of fans that included matchups in 2023 amongst Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, and Oleksandr Usyk. Well-run sports give fans the events they want when they want them. Too often, boxing does neither.
It now looks as though Fury will have one fight in 2023 and that will be against Frances Ngannou. Wilder is hoping to fight Joshua in January 2024 which means that Deontay’s dance card for 2023 could be blank. Joshua’s opponents so far this year have been Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius (both of whom are absent from BoxRec.com’s list of top-25 heavyweights).
Rounding out the schedule, Usyk entered the ring in Wroclaw, Poland, on August 26 to face Daniel Dubois in what will likely be Oleksandr’s only outing this year. It was a less-than-scintillating performance with Usyk winning on a ninth-round stoppage. Afterward, Dubois complained about the officiating. He should have blamed himself for the loss.
Usyk (now 21-0 with 14 KOs), dominated the cruiserweight division before moving to heavyweight four years ago. He struggled at the new weight in victories over Chazz Witherspoon and Derek Chisora before outpointing Anthony Joshua twice to claim and retain the WBA, IBF, and WBO titles. Joshua has been in a strange place lately, so Oleksandr’s heavyweight credentials were still a bit suspect. Now 36 years old, he’d hoped to face Fury this year in a megafight that would have brought generational wealth to both men and unified the heavyweight crown.
“I want the WBC title,” Usyk had proclaimed. “It was captured by the gypsies, some kind of king. Everyone knows that this is a very crazy guy. ‘I’m leaving boxing, I’m coming back.’ He hasn’t retired yet. It’s just a game. Someone says it’s better to not understand what Fury is saying. But I understand everything. I just don’t pay any attention.”
But the bottom line was that Fury wouldn’t sign on the dotted line. And Usyk was forced to choose between a mandatory WBA title defence against Dubois or relinquishing the WBA portion of his domain. He opted for the former. When asked during an interview on TNT Sports if he was fighting the wrong Brit, Oleksandr replied, “It might be. But if I have this Englishman in my way now, then I have to face him.”
Dubois’ credentials as a world title challenger were – shall we say – dubious. He’d fashioned a 15-0 (14 KOs) record against limited opposition when he fought Joe Joyce in 2020 and was forced to submit in round 10 as a consequence of a fractured eye socket. After rebounding with victories over journeymen Bogdan Dinu and Joe Cusumano, he stopped Trevor Bryan to claim the bogus World Boxing Association “regular” world heavyweight title. Late last year, he survived a torn knee ligament and three first-round knockdowns against unheralded Kevin Lerena to score a questionable third-round stoppage and retain his belt.
Team Dubois talked a good game before fighting Usyk. Daniel promised a search and destroy mission keyed to “opening up on him, being aggressive, just unleashing it on him. Keep landing on his little head, bang him up.”
Frank Warren (Dubois’ promoter) talked strategy and declared, “Daniel can’t do what Joshua did [against Usyk], which was show too much respect and getting out-jabbed and outboxed by a smaller guy. As soon as that bell goes, he’s gotta get in there and he’s gotta impose himself and use all his physical attributes. It’s hard to picture a scenario where Usyk can keep Daniel at bay for three minutes of every round.”
Meanwhile, Don Charles (who was training Dubois for the first time) crossed into silliness when he declared, “Dubois’ power is unmeasurable. The minute Daniel corners him, the fight is over.”
In a nod to Usyk’s Ukrainian nationality, Usyk-Dubois was contested in Poland, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have relocated since Vladimir Putin’s brutal war of aggression against their country began. A video message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was shown on a giant screen in the stadium minutes before the bout began.
Thinking is different from knowing. Dubois might have gone into the fight thinking he could win. Usyk (an 8/1 betting favorite) knew he could. My round-by-round notes read as follows:
Round 1 – A feeling out stanza. Nothing much happening. Dubois keeping his right hand in mothballs. Slight edge to Usyk.
Round 2 – Two good straight lefts from Usyk . . . Dubois not moving forward aggressively like he and his team said he would.
Round 3 – A slow tactical fight . . . Rain might be getting onto the ring canvas.
Round 4 – Usyk looks beatable but Dubois doesn’t look like the man for the job.
Round 5 – Usyk dropped by an apparent low blow. Referee Luis Pabon gives him several minutes to recover.
Round 6 – Usyk doesn’t have elite heavyweight power. But Dubois isn’t pressuring him and engaging when he has the chance.
Round 7 – Usyk’s best round . . . Dubois not fighting the way a man who wants to be heavyweight champion of the world should fight.
Round 8 – Usyk drops Dubois near the end of the round with a right jab followed by some grazing punches.
Round 9 – Usyk drops Dubois again with a right jab. Dubois slow to get up. KO 9 . . . The count looked a bit quick. Or maybe Pabon stopped it because Dubois looked like he didn’t want to fight anymore. Daniel could have gotten up sooner than he did and didn’t complain about the stoppage.
After the fight, Dubois criticised Pabon’s call of a low blow in round five and lamented, “I’ve been cheated out of victory tonight.” Frank Warren, as one would expect of Daniel’s promoter, was in accord.
For the record; I’ve watched the body shot that felled Usyk multiple times, and I think it was low. Not intentional, not flagrant, but low. The blow was launched from below Usyk’s waist into an area just beneath his beltline in a way that appeared to jam his protective cup into his testicles. And the way Oleksandr reacted was consistent with a low blow, not the delayed reaction that one sees from a crippling legal body shot. He used just under four of the five minutes that he was given to recover and was entitled to do so.
I also think that, when someone becomes a professional fighter, he (or she) is held to a uniquely high standard, particularly at the championship level, and that Dubois fell short of that standard in his unwillingness to walk through fire in an effort to win the fight.
Asked afterward to rate Dubois’ power, Usyk said simply, “No. Only in my balls.”
Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected]. His most recent book – The Universal Sport: Two Years Inside Boxing – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.