LAST NIGHT (August 26) in Wroclaw, Poland, two heavyweight boxers, Oleksandr Usyk and Daniel Dubois, were knocked down by punches in a boxing ring and then, having felt these punches, spent far too long on the ring’s canvas according to many watching at home. Dubois, they said, was punched nowhere near hard enough to warrant his reaction in round nine, while Usyk, whose trip to the canvas happened in round five, was not punched low enough to justify him sitting down until the pain had gone away.
As far as controversies go, this is one on which a lot – too much – energy will be wasted in the coming days; energy, it must be said, better used elsewhere. However, because everything has be a conspiracy nowadays, and because everybody has an opinion they can offer to millions of strangers online, there can no longer be such a thing as a straightforward incident in a boxing ring or a simple action-reaction scenario. Now, sadly, due to both the scepticism boxing’s behaviour has invited to its door and the desperate attention-seeking which plagues society, everything that happens in a ring is scrutinised and debated to an (often) unnecessary degree.
Last night in Poland, for instance, where Usyk ultimately stopped Dubois in nine rounds to retain his various heavyweight belts, we were, like manna from heaven, given all the tools for yet another week of REACTION! videos, as well as additional content designed only to generate traffic following what, without a so-called controversy, was an otherwise routine mismatch. If in the coming days it’s not Dubois being accused of quitting – again – on account of staying down following a ramrod jab in round nine, we will find ourselves inundated with images of Dubois’ right glove landing somewhere around Usyk’s beltline in the fifth, accompanied, no doubt, by grand and hysterical captions like this: DUBOIS KNOCKED OUT USYK WITH A BODY SHOT IN ROUND FIVE! DUBOIS SHOULD BE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION! JUSTICE FOR DYNAMITE DAN! HE DESERVES HIS REMATCH!
This kind of post-event reaction is not exclusive to boxing, of course. It does in fact drive the popularity of many sports these days, what with so much importance placed on the base opinions of non-athletes and agitators online. Yet it is in boxing it creates a particular uneasiness, especially when dealing with the reactions of human beings to punches they have received in a ring on fight night. After all, who, other than the two men involved, can truly say how a certain blow felt or how a certain blow landed? Moreover, it is very easy when a fight is finished and you are thinking of ways to steer eyeballs towards your social media account, to pluck images and moments entirely out of context and then base your argument – whatever that may be – around it. In the case of Usyk and Dubois, this is clearly what has happened and will no doubt continue to happen until people get bored and, guess what, nothing happens.
The first incident, the low blow in round five, has already been reduced to a simple screenshot which apparently shows the blow was legal (that is, touching some part of Usyk’s waistband), only this image does not take into account (a) Usyk’s reaction to the blow landing, which was consistent with that of a man being punched in the testicles (b) the referee’s pre-fight instructions (c) Usyk’s toughness and ability to take punishment (yes, even body shots) and (d) the flow of the fight.
Indeed, up to that point, Dubois, 19-2 (18), had landed barely a shot on the elusive Ukrainian and was certainly nowhere near a breakthrough. That is not to say Dubois couldn’t turn things around with a single shot – this was likely his plan all along – but there was, at that stage, no need on the part of Usyk to buy time, look for a respite, or force a disqualification by petulantly sitting on the canvas for a prolonged period in round five.
Rather, what we saw on Usyk’s face and in his demeanour in that round were the tell-tale signs of a boxer who had been hit low. Forget whether the punch had landed squarely on that part of his body, or whether it had simply glanced that area having been aimed a little higher, Usyk was nevertheless an image of a man in severe pain; a pain, crucially, different from the kind he and every other boxer accepts as part of the job. This, for Usyk, was a pain like no other and only the people who were last night spared this pain and were instead busy drinking, eating junk food, capturing screenshots, drawing red lines, and fishing for “likes” would accuse him, a professional fighter, of faking pain in order to disguise the real pain of a body shot landing.
If that is what he did, fake it, Usyk, 21-0 (14), is a far better actor than he is a boxer, that’s for sure. Furthermore, if that is what happened, one would imagine Daniel Dubois, the boxer who apparently landed this fight-changing body shot, would have made more of a fuss about what then occurred as a result of it in the minutes he spent patiently waiting for Usyk to pull himself upright. Instead of doing that, though, Dubois both said and did nothing. He kept shtum in fact until after the fight, by which point those who seek to control a developing narrative, and those who can see money in a rematch (regardless of how one-sided it would be), start to get in a boxer’s ear and, like a bedtime story, whisper to them all the things they want to hear and all the things they perhaps don’t even know.
As for the end of the fight, which came about in round nine when a jolting Usyk jab had Dubois sitting out referee Luis Pabon’s count, that too is an incident it would be cruel of anyone to judge too harshly. Again, when taken out of context, and when viewed in isolation, the idea of a heavyweight boxer being stopped by a jab seems incongruous to all who comment rather than compete, yet it is when placed in context that it makes a lot more sense. For example, Usyk’s southpaw jab is a jab like few others in the heavyweight division, being as it is quicker and more spiteful than most. Also, this punch, one Dubois couldn’t see coming and couldn’t stop, was staggering the brave but out of his depth Brit from as early as round one.
Not only that, Dubois, very much a front-runner who gains confidence from being able to make a dent in his opponent, had, by round nine, run out of both ideas and hope. That doesn’t mean he was looking for a way out, no, but it would be remiss not to mention that we have been here before with Dubois, most notably when he was accused of “quitting” in a loss against Joe Joyce in 2020.
To accuse him of that, both then and now, is grossly unfair unless you have walked in his shoes and felt some of his pain. Yet, equally, for Dubois and his camp to now accuse Oleksandr Usyk of reacting inappropriately to a punch Dubois might have thrown but did not receive is every bit as unfair.
It is maybe the lowest blow of them all, in fact.