INCREASINGLY, as boxing becomes more of an entertainment business and no longer feels the need to pretend otherwise, the word “timing” is one you tend to hear away from the ring rather than inside it.
Unlike before, when it was occasionally used to explain the reason why a fighter had landed a knockout blow, or a fighter had struggled to replicate past form, today we hear the word “timing” used most often when fights fall apart or are for whatever reason put on hold. We are told, in those moments, that it is “all a matter of timing” and that the fight will happen when it is good and ready, with additional phrases like “marinate” and “build” and “it will be even bigger when they both have belts” used in conjunction with it.
Boxing, of course, has always been an art of timing, in both the competition sense and the matchmaking sense. But never before has there been such an emphasis placed on getting the timing right when it comes to making fights and ensuring they happen when they are at their most profitable. This, among other reasons, is perhaps why so many of the sport’s divisions are prone to becoming stagnant and why many of the champions nowadays have no problem fighting only once or twice a year. Eager to get their timing right, apparently, these champions will fight only when it suits them and will ignore the concept of time – how quickly it can pass, how it later morphs into regret – until, like so many fighters before them, they look to do something in the ring and realise they can’t. It is then they know it has got them. Bad timing. Father Time. It is then they know they left it too late.
At heavyweight, we have in recent days seen two stories of which timing, whether good or bad, was at the very heart. The first of these was a purse bid drama involving British heavyweight champion Fabio Wardley and mandatory challenger Frazer Clarke, which, on social media at least, produced the kind of performative outrage and histrionics normally reserved for more meaningful and interesting fights. It did so, I think, because those invested in it – chiefly, the fans – had been led to believe by both boxers and their camps that this was a fight that was not only going to happen next but was being made at just the right time. It was, in essence, the fight Fabio Wardley required in order to increase his profile and also the test Frazer Clarke required having struggled to find any decent opponents in his first six pro fights. There was of course some risk involved, for both, but it was a risk they decided was worth the eventual reward: the British heavyweight crown.
That the fight then failed to materialise was the cause for much frustration among those privy to why and also among those who just wanted to shout about something. Apparently, though they all have their explanations, it all boiled down to a matter of timing. It had not a thing to do with the possibility of a big-name Sky Sports fighter potentially boxing on a rival platform, nor did it have anything to do with either of the two boxers being “scared” in the traditional, human sense. Rather, when all is said and done, the given reason why this fight is not happening, according to Clarke’s team, is that Clarke, at 6-0 (5), is not yet ready to jump into a 12-rounder for the British heavyweight title.
That, as an excuse, is fine, by the way. It’s just a shame we had to take the scenic route to arrive at it. For had it been made clear back at the very start, around the time Clarke was mandated and this fight started to grow wings, it would have perhaps been easier to buy and understand and consider as a perfectly valid reason why the timing, for him, was maybe not quite right.
Certainly, despite Clarke’s rich amateur pedigree, it is obvious why his team would be somewhat reluctant to drop him in a 12-rounder having so far only gone six rounds as a pro. Given their supposedly healthy investment in him, you want a little more of a guarantee when stepping up a level, particularly when the reward at the end of it is only, with all due respect, a British title. In other words, to lose in a world heavyweight title fight, following a calculated gamble, is one thing; something from which a fighter can rebuild. But to come unstuck now, at British title level, would be a disaster for Clarke, even more so when taking into account his relatively late start in the pro game.
Naturally, that’s a point Wardley, 16-0 (15), and his team will offer as the very reason why Clarke should take the fight at this juncture in his career. They will say he does not have time on his side and therefore cannot be overly concerned with getting his timing right when it comes to making moves and selecting opponents. There is credence to that view as well.
Ultimately, though, when the dust finally settles, it’s just another fight that may or may not happen. The world won’t stop should Frazer Clarke and Fabio Wardley one day share a ring, nor, conversely, will any of us find ourselves on our deathbed listing their inability to do so as one of life’s great regrets. In some ways, the fight itself, given their relative inexperience and the fact neither have achieved a great deal as pros, was merely a product of the giddy and unwarranted hyperbole social media has a knack of harvesting, as well as the misguided belief of fighters and promoters that they must always say or tweet something when the best option is to usually just shut up and switch off their phone for a while. A perfect storm, what we found as a result of this behaviour was that the very thing that built the fight proved to be the very thing that eventually brought it down. And there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.
Speaking of lessons, another heavyweight, Daniel Dubois, will have to decide whether he has sat enough of them to prepare him adequately for the test presented by Oleksandr Usyk later this year. That is a heavyweight title fight for which purse bids have been called next Thursday (May 25) and it is also a fight for which Dubois, Usyk’s number one contender with the WBA, was expected to train alongside Shane McGuigan.
This, however, will no longer be the case, as McGuigan confirmed to Boxing News yesterday. Now, instead of McGuigan, Dubois will be led into battle, whether against Usyk or someone else, by Don Charles, a man synonymous with another British heavyweight, Dereck Chisora.
“Obviously I’m very happy and excited to have inherited a fighter of his level,” Charles told Tris Dixon for proboxtv.com. “I don’t often get given that by any promoter, but nevertheless, he’s found his way to me and I believe I’m going to add to what he already brings to the table – and he brings a lot to the table already.
“He’s a very well-schooled, high-level operator and I’m going to add what is needed to take him across the line, especially with the daunting task ahead.
“It would have been nice to have had a fight prior to going to face someone like the masterful boxer that is Usyk, but nevertheless, it is what it is.
“It’s reminiscent of when Dereck was appointed to fight Wladimir Klitschko, who pulled out, and then Vitali Klitschko. It’s a daunting affair, but I’m always up for a challenge and I’m going to do my utmost to aid Daniel to try and do what is deemed the impossible to many. But to me my attitude is always this man is a human and he breathes oxygen, therefore we can do what we can do; the best we can do to try and dethrone him.”
Initially, when hearing news of Dubois and McGuigan parting ways, it seemed, in the context of Dubois’ progression and immediate threat, a get-out-of-jail-free card to some degree. Which is to say, knowing purse bids were soon due for a fight against Usyk, there now appeared no better way of avoiding this daunting prospect than to claim a disturbance behind the scenes and request additional time to both find a trainer and settle with that trainer. In that time, which could prove to be vital, Dubois could then work on improving in the gym and, better yet, win an additional – and hopefully more meaningful – fight or two.
Because at this stage, irrespective of the financial appeal of a Usyk fight, there can be no doubt, on paper at least, that Dubois is woefully unprepared for such an assignment. In fact, there is an argument to be made that were it not for the ridiculous WBA ‘regular’ title he carries with him, which has accelerated his rise up their rankings, this fight would never be one anybody would suggest for Dubois. In that sense, he has been betrayed by the very belt he values so dearly. In that sense, he has become an emblem for just how damaging these minor ‘regular’ belts can end up being, not only to the sport’s infrastructure but also to the health of the fighters who rush to grab hold of them; each blinded by how easy they are to win.
That’s not to say Dubois, 19-1 (18), isn’t powerful enough to trouble Usyk should they one day meet. Nor is it to say he can’t shock the world and become the first person to beat the brilliant Ukrainian as a pro. But, clearly, based on what we know of both, and based on what we have seen in Dubois’ recent fights, the very image of Daniel Dubois sharing a ring with Oleksandr Usyk is one hard to imagine, never mind believe is somehow the next logical step in a career that is, despite the title attached to it, very much in its infancy. Dubois is, after all, still only 25 years of age; so young for a heavyweight. He is also someone who in his last fight appeared on the brink of being stopped in the first round by the unheralded Kevin Lerena and someone who, before that, won his current title when beating Trevor Bryan, a man who struggled to maintain his balance, let alone throw a correct punch, inside a Miami casino.
To say Dubois is ill-equipped for this opportunity, then, would be an understatement. He is – and in every conceivable way. However, what is also true is that the Londoner, having now split from McGuigan, suddenly finds himself in this rarest and most precious of positions, blessed as he is with the ability to just say “no” and not be judged for it, or condemned for it, or labelled either a “bottle job” or “scared” or “weak-minded”. Indeed, should he take that path, he would instead be considered wise, particularly in light of all the recent upheaval. He would be seen as playing the long game and prioritising his career over some trinket he picked up on a ramshackle Don King event for which he just about got paid. He could, by throwing that belt away and realising he is better off without it, even make a stand, the implication being that he is backing himself to reach the top at his own pace rather than simply panicking and cashing out now.
Otherwise, it is not so much a belt, that WBA title, as a noose; one he mistook for a pretty necklace until it started to tighten around his neck. It comes with a receipt, Dubois will be pleased to know, but time, as always, is very much of the essence. “No returns,” it reads, “after May 25.”