It is not just the latest fight between two unbeaten heavyweights, which are rare enough, but it is also one of the riskiest fights I can remember ever being made in our business. Frank Warren, the promoter of both, and clearly part of the Dubois camp, knows its dangers: “It’s the biggest risk I have ever taken,” he said. It has been talked about for six months, serious negotiations have been underway since before Christmas, it was meant to be announced Wednesday, then Thursday and it seemed, as the hours and days slipped by, that perhaps it simply would not get made.
It was finally announced early on Friday morning on Breakfast television, then the roadshow moved to the BT Tower for more fun and games. Joyce and Dubois are not naturally antagonistic, they are not the type of boxers to pull off a stunt at a conference, swinging from the chandeliers with a threat of beheading to help with the hype and awareness. Thankfully, the carnival was saved from polite but menacing threats by the presence of Joyce’s agent, Sam Jones, and the veteran Warren. Their schtick was blinding.
“Frank knows he has made a mistake,” said Jones. “Frank will need nappies on fight night and a full packet of Imodium.”
“This is what boxing is really about,” said Warren. “I keep being told I have made a mistake – we will see. One thing is for certain now: The talking is over.” The top table at the press conference then carried on shouting and joking for another 20 minutes.
The two boxers did get close and physical at the head-to-head photo opportunity, the laughs suspended as their chests touched. They might both be decent, quiet men, but they each have a lot of nastiness in them when they get in the ring. It was not a surprise that beyond the jesting there was a bit of a raw edge.
Dubois is just 22, unbeaten in 14 and 13 have ended quickly, including nine that never went beyond two rounds. Joyce is a young 34 in boxing years, he only walked in the gym in his early twenties, and he is unbeaten in ten with nine finishing quickly. Joyce also won Olympic silver in Rio.
The facts and figures fail to convey the significance of such a fight and endless comparisons to other nights when two unbeaten boxers met each other are inadequate guides. I have heard far too many people insisting that the loser on the night will benefit from the experience and I believe that is bad thinking, sloppy justification.
When Anthony Joshua knocked out Dillian Whyte in 2015 they were both unbeaten at the time, sure, but Joshua was the star, the clear betting favourite and promotion favourite. Whyte had been banned, had fought in obscurity and made the fight happen by loudly demanding Joshua. It was nothing like this fight. The circumstances were totally different, trust me.
In 2011 Warren matched George Groves and James DeGale over 12 rounds at the O2; critics said it was too early, too hard for both. DeGale was unbeaten in 10, Groves in 12, they had fought a controversial amateur fight, they disliked each other and, more importantly, they were not vicious heavyweights. The fight went 12, Groves nicked a wafer-thin decision – one judge had it a draw and the other two went for Groves by just one round – and they both went on and won world titles.
They did both become better boxers after that fight, but Dubois and Joyce are different men, savage punchers with great engines and no idea at this stage of their career what to do in a long, brutal fight. Their defensive skills have not been tested, and those skills go beyond having a good chin and a big heart. I would strongly argue that both Groves and DeGale had been in tougher fights before they met than the 24 fun fights that Dubois and Joyce have so far had.
The real difference is that they are both heavyweights and destructive heavyweights. There is little chance of a hard, close 12 round fight and a tight decision; this fight could take a lot out of both men, leave both men suffering. They have no idea how to lose, no real sense of what can go wrong in a proper fight. Also, they have no need to fight each other at this stage. “They are doing it because they want to – the winner will get a world title fight in a year,” added Warren. That is true, but there is also an old boxing axiom that there are no shortcuts in the boxing business.
This is not just two unbeaten heavyweights in a fight, it is a lot more and it deserves our attention and our praise. The boxers have shown great courage by agreeing to a fight that, to be honest, neither of them needed. What a fight it is. Staggering.
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