The finish was perfect, the men a credit and the fight for the vacant British heavyweight title, the most prestigious of boxing belts, belonged in a time before the sport lost its mind to cash, carnage, drug outrages and stupidity.
Daniel Dubois, just 21, fought like an old, seasoned bruiser, his feet flawless, his jab a stiff weapon inherited from relics of the ring and the final punch in round five caught Nathan Gorman high above the jawline.
The fight was over from the moment of impact, a new champion, a new heavyweight baby was born as Gorman toppled. If Dubois was from the south side of some pitiless slum in America, had the exact same dimensions and statistics, we would hail his arrival with a mixture of awe and relief that such young talent still exists.
Gorman went down heavily in the fifth, his senses scrambled beyond instant repair by the right cross, and he tried to lift his heavy body inside the ten allowed seconds, the ancient toll that separates survival from despair.
The final count is an act always played in awful slow motion from my seat just six feet away – so much happens in such a short time; the pain, the misery, the joy of the fighter in the neutral corner, the hollow shouts and screams and tears of the circus at ringside. The seconds tick, the fighter struggles against the time a referee is hollering in his ear and the heavy fuzz in his head. Gorman missed the count, made it up, just shy of safety like a man dragging a wet mattress up fifty flights of unsteady steps, his eyes at that point focused on simple things a long, long way from the violence in the ring at the O2,
It was win number 12 for Dubois, the 11th by stoppage or knockout. Gorman, just 23, lost for the first time in 17 fights. A fight between two boxing babies, both unbeaten and at such an early stage of their careers – a time when each could have continued padding their records with fall-over stiffs – is all part of the British boxing revolution.
And there was violence late on Saturday night in a ring fast acquiring a brutal legacy with fights that have shaped our boxing business. Dubois is now on the list of glory, the best young fighter in the global heavyweight business without a doubt and arguably the most exciting 21-year-old operating right now in boxing.
Dubois, however, will not play the games so many believe further their careers and he is unlikely to ever become a showman.
“It’s not Daniel, it’s not what he does,” said Martin Bowers, his trainer at the Peacock gym, a retreat deep in boxing’s east end heartland. The Peacock has been a home for real fighting men and women, a haven against the boom in fake boxing gyms, for over 30 years now. Incidentally, Caroline Dubois, the champion’s younger sister, will win a medal next year at the Tokyo Olympics.
Gorman, meanwhile, can so easily return and he left the O2 temporarily broken, intent on revenge one day and without an excuse in his honest head. I interviewed the pair side-by-side in the ring when it was over, both still sweating, a little blood oozing from a cut above Gorman’s left eye, and it was not mock respect, cosmetic words from the pair, as they each thanked the other. This is how the sport of boxing should be played. Gorman went back to Nantwich to spend a first night at home with his baby daughter born at the very start of fight week. As I said, no excuses from Gorman.
There was never an easy second in the fight. It was the type of fight where one missed, the other connected. Bang, bang, bang and all heavy. The opening round was breathtaking, Gorman connecting with a left hook counter and Dubois landing with jabs and then dropping the right cross over. There was not a second to pause, the pair were ferocious. Gorman’s left hook counter needed to be shorter, his feet a fraction closer and Dubois needed to let two jabs go, eat the distance and make sure the right connected before it had travelled too far. The 180 seconds vanished in a blur of ‘oohs’ and ‘arghs’, the chorus backdrop to all good rounds.
Dubois started to read Gorman from the second and after he was warned between rounds to “stop trying to hurt, just box” by Bowers, he started to relax, think and box. In Gorman’s corner, Ricky Hatton remained calm even when the heavyweight returned with an inch-long gash just above his left eyelid at the end of round two.
In round three Gorman was down, shaken and hurt he took a few seconds on a knee and then gritted his teeth, dug his toes in the canvas and had an old-fashioned fight. It was brave. Dubois was caught, backed off and Gorman carried on throwing punches. It is moments like that in fights like this that make a fighter forever. Had Gorman just survived the best from Dubois?
In round four it seemed to me that Gorman was reading the right from Dubois, just tucking away from it. It was an intriguing round and then came the fifth, Dubois adjusted, got closer and connected. It was over with the type of finish that all heavyweights crave, a clean punch. Dubois is here, his name now known and Gorman will be back. On Saturday night they delivered a fight packed with something for everybody, a fight for the ages and in the most modern of fighting times a young kid with a boxing dream clutched the Lonsdale belt and smiled. It was a picture for history.
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