Pete Rademacher. Tyrell Biggs. Henry Tillman. Michael Bennett. Michael Grant. Expect the names to be rolled out in the coming days, like the saddest of funeral processions — a somber reminder of the heavyweight division’s most auspicious careers cut down too soon.
For a Brits-only version, the ceremony will be shorter, but stingingly familiar: They’ll sing the ballad of Frank Bruno. A dirge to Audley Harrison. On the pallid bust of Palas, they’ll recall the promise of David Price, and then — nevermore.
Whose cruel fate is marked by this grim occasion? Which pitiable son of the Commonwealth will be heaved atop the scrap heap of heavyweight lost souls? The 23-year-old man-child who, until hours ago, had been the best hope among the heirs to the division’s current monarchy, Daniel Dubois.
On Saturday at London’s Church House on ESPN+, Dubois (15-1, 14 KO) took an ambitious step-up fight against Joe Joyce (12-0, 11 KO), a 35-year-old oil tanker of a fighter whose pro record and general profile weren’t entirely reflective of the threat he posed. Because Dubois had previously fought beyond the fifth round only once, Joyce’s cobalt chin, battering ram jab, and sheer mass were believed to give him the tools to potentially extend the prospect and test the limits of his will. The fears of Dubois’ supporters, as well as anyone with a passing interest in the ongoing health of the heavyweight division, were realized as Joyce broke down Dubois with a simple but pulverizingly effective approach, essentially bullying the prospect into a no mas 10th-round stoppage.
In retrospect, the concerns were well founded. Joyce didn’t come to boxing until his early 20s, but he was a quick enough study in the amateurs (winning bronze at the 2015 World Championships, silver at the 2016 Olympics) and had since plowed through gatekeepers Bermane Stiverne and Bryant Jennings to announce his arrival at the fringes of contendership. Although Dubois was favored by bookmakers, Joyce — at 6-foot-6 and 259 pounds, with a paralyzing jab — is the sort around whom even elite heavyweights would step lively. For Dubois, a babe still navigating his way around a shaving kit — and whose best win to date had come against fellow prospect Nathan Gorman — Joyce was a nest of cottonmouths hidden in a swimming hole.
Joyce made it clear from the outset that he could be trouble for the younger man. Although Dubois (6-foot-5, 244 pounds) didn’t lag far behind his opponent in the size department, and his agility and quickness even gave him clear athletic advantages, he proved right away to be unprepared for Joyce’s lead left. The notion of stepping inside the range of Joyce’s superior reach with hands low feels like madness now, but stop for a second to consider what your idea of fun was at Dubois’ age. We were all young and stupid once.
By the end of the first round, Dubois’ left eye was already pink — while the rest of his face had lightened a shade or two. Joyce’s power had clearly spooked the kid, which made Dubois’ response all the more encouraging: He stood from his stool for the second round, dialed up his punch rate and aggression, and began setting up his own offense, even landing an overhand right countershot on Joyce that might have ended another fight if his opponent a) hadn’t rolled with the punch and b) hadn’t had a head built like a four-barrel carburetor.
The prospect kept searching for openings, splitting Joyce’s guard with a hard jab, ducking in to land an occasional lead right hand, opening up his opponent with a picture-perfect 1-2 that made Dubois appear increasingly capable of outscoring, if not overpowering, Joyce. But … those hands. For whatever reason (Fatigue? Inexperience?), Dubois continued to hold them too low. Joyce’s arcing, achingly slow power shots may have been avoidable, but his stick was straight, true and — even from a semi-extended position — painful. For all his athletic gifts, Dubois is elusive, not invisible.
Although he’d likely eked ahead on the scorecards by the middle rounds, Dubois was increasingly debilitated by the swelling around his eye. In the 7th, the prospect fired his jab effectively, landed several strong combinations and even absorbed a terrifying jab-power right from Joyce that he likely never saw. In fact, it may have been Dubois’ best round — a token for fans to take with them in hopes of better days ahead. But it was also the kid’s last gasp.
Dubois slowed in the 8th, and Joyce finished with something resembling a flurry (men his size simply do no such thing) to steal the round. The 9th mostly followed suit. Joyce didn’t demonstrate overt menace, but he kept delivering that jab, puffing Dubois’ eye and draining the prospect’s interest in the whole enterprise. Seconds into the 10th round, Joyce speared one last time — a locomotive left hand — into Dubois’ left eye. It wasn’t the force of the blow that sent him to a knee, but a conscious decision. The prospect could no longer see from the eye. Whether Dubois’ worried that the loss of vision could lead to far greater risk or he was just sick of being socked like a speed bag, he made a choice from the canvas to wait out the full count from referee Ian John Lewis.
The boxing Illuminati, no doubt, will pass swift and savage judgment on Dubois. But let’s take a breath. Dubois deserves praise for meeting the challenge Joyce posed. Remember, these are the matchups fans claim to want. Are you not entertained? Further, it should be acknowledged that Dubois bit down and fought through 10 rounds of having his left eye steadily pounded into pork schnitzel. If you’re going to question his manhood for weighing this particular moment against the balance of his career and — oh, I don’t know — the rest of his fucking life, promptly seek help for your narcissistic personality disorder. We can expect Dubois to learn from this battle. We know he’ll live to fight another day. Canelo Alvarez was whipped from pillar to post by Floyd Mayweather. Who says Dubois can’t come back from this?
Meanwhile, Joyce is now a legitimate player in the sweepstakes to be an opponent for Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, and Deontay Wilder. Is he as qualified or skilled as Oleksandr Usyk, Andy Ruiz, or even Alexander Povetkin? Christ, no. But he has the right combination of size, power, and durability to make a go at any of the heavyweight top guns, and Joyce instantly makes the division more fun by an order of magnitude. Look, let’s not read too much into this. Very large men fighting one another doesn’t have to be poetry, Poe, or anything more transcendent than a poleaxe jab to the face. Punishment can be its own reward.