If there’s one sport that seeks headlines or highlights like no other then it’s boxing. Careers buoyed and built on showreel stoppages, slow-motion replays and that final concussive blow. On rare occasions devastating fists bring with it a mouth to match, and a promoter’s dream is built. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Tyson Fury come to mind, though for the latter this has not always been the case.
The heavyweight division draws its appeal precisely because it is like no other, where the size of each fighter brings a power that more often than not ends with a fallen goliath and a picture for a poster down the line. It’s the reason why crossover appeal, the ability to market a fight to an audience that isn’t necessarily a fight fan, more often than not occurs with these heavyweight giants.
On Saturday night that anticipation was intimated at by the meeting of two unbeaten prospects at differing ends of their careers. Daniel Dubois, a softly spoken 23 year old with the capacity and tendency for night ending hooks, a ramrod jab and quick feet. Frank Warren’s chosen one, Dubois enjoyed the rare distinction of having been picked up by the veteran promoter before he had even had his first professional fight. In the opposite corner lay Joe Joyce. 35 years old, a silver medallist at the Rio Olympics. Many predicted that would be the pinnacle of his career. Eager to come forward, easy to read and predictable in his punches, he started the night as a three to one outsider.
Promoters tried to create a rivalry. Sam Jones, Joyce’s promoter did his best to rile Dubois, to tell him the fight had come too early. Both fighters exchanged petty insults at the various press appearances, but neither possessed the cult of personality blessed by others that have trod their path. This was a fight nine months in the making, cancelled on four occasions, but despite the build up all the anticipation rested on what fans expected in the ring. An early knockout from two fighters who refuse to take a step back and a tilt at a world title shot the gold plated carrot in front.
No confident tongue would provide any weight regardless unless it sits three inches above a granite chin. The first round was cautious, a battle of the jabs with both men catching but Dubois being penned back, and boxing for the first time in his career on the outside of the ring. Forward Joyce came offering a gentle jab which look laboured, before darting in with the same jab twice as powerful some seconds later. On a few occasions both men’s head would wobble but each time they retreated. A tentative start.
The minute on their stools passed by and Dubois attacked, a right hand fizzing over the gloves of Dubois and hitting Joyce flush on the side of his head. His right leg buckles and he takes two steps back. Dubois is used to this. He’s seen it before, a punch caught clean and an opponent soon falling to the canvas. But just as Joyce buckles he strengthens once more, with the young prospect catching him again but Joyce standing firm. A brief exchange and the two are stuck together, Joyce taking a moment to breath. The sequence repeats itself a minute later and Dubois is in control. The concussive knockout just waiting to happen.
Or so we thought, how instructive that round was. Joyce weathered the storm and returns the favour with a left hand padding at the right eye of Dubois. In a round won by the golden-boy, it is the reddening around his eye that leaves the biggest imprint on the fight. Slowly but clearly the eye develops and the pattern continues, but each time Dubois’s attacks grow weaker and his eye larger, peppered by the hands of a 260 pound man.
Each round they dance. Little to separate them, but each round the swelling grows. Intriguing to the last that highlight finish grows distant, and with one knee to the canvas after a non-descript jab it finally submits. Dubois is broken, his eye socket fractured. Blind in one eye, he can no longer see the left hand of Joyce coming towards him, but that’s no reprieve when nerve damage sends a juddering pain to his brain.
No sooner has he taken a knee than commentators are taking their aim. A quitter, boxing’s cardinal sin, not a young man preserving a living from an injury that has ended the career of none too few. For boxing needs its black and white, its picture postcard ending. It’s what draws a peripheral sport into the mainstream even though the reality is far more interesting.
Joe Joyce that night did something he hadn’t done before. ‘One dimensional’, ‘easy to read’, people knew he could take a punch but in Westminster Hall he did much more. He adapted when people didn’t think he could or rather wished he didn’t, targeting Dubois’s eye when it was clear he was enjoying success. No need to come forward and trade punches like he can, instead he did what he should. Ring craft of the highest order.
The aftermath of Saturday and the debate around Dubois’s heart may do Joyce some favours, though the lack of credit may be hard to take. Over the next twelve months or whenever that world title tilt appears, the odds will most likely have him still a distant second. I for one won’t bet against history repeating itself. A chin like no other, a boxing brain built on years of experience and an energy unbecoming of his age. Joyce has all the ingredients.
Featured image “28/02/2013 Weigh-in British Lionhearts vs Ukraine Otamans” by World Series Boxing is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0