BOXERS, in their various guises as fighting men and women, have been punching each other in the face for hundreds of years. While doing so, they enter into an unwritten code that forbids them from admitting they’re so badly hurt they cannot continue. The punishment for breaking that code is simple but effective: You will be labelled a quitter for the rest of your life.
The moment Daniel Dubois took a knee of his own accord and didn’t get up in the 10th round of his punishing fight with Joe Joyce, he broke that code and in the eyes of his fellow fighters he became a quitter.
“I don’t like seeing boxers take a knee like that,” former cruiserweight and heavyweight world titlist David Haye said in his post-fight analysis on BT Sport, “I’d rather be knocked spark out.”
Carl Frampton, another fighter with world belts in two divisions, agreed. “I thought he quit there,” said Frampton, shortly before Dubois was taken to hospital. “Let’s call a spade a spade. I’d rather be dragged out of the ring.”
Both Haye and Frampton were telling the truth, they were speaking from the heart, and should not be criticised. It is the way they are conditioned, and what they believe.
Perhaps the term ‘quitter’ needs to be refined. It’s one thing to not prepare properly and turn your back after three rounds but it’s another thing entirely, I’d argue, to admit you can’t go on after a gruelling and painful fight that has left you hurt and injured.
Fighters, and the trade as a whole, should be encouraged to show more compassion. Just because they have made it out the other side of a punishing fight doesn’t mean every boxer can or does. Furthermore, it is frankly impossible to know for sure exactly what is going on inside the brain or body of another.
It’s not just chastising ‘quitters’ that’s the problem, it’s the violent standard it sets.
Gerald McClellan, against Nigel Benn in 1995, took a knee and thus broke the warrior code only to save his reputation by then being taken out of the ring on a stretcher. He remains physically and mentally disabled to this day. The commentary from that fight still haunts, 25 years on. More recently, Mike Towell went into his 2016 contest with Dale Evans knowing he had been suffering from serious headaches yet, as a boxer, as a warrior, he felt he could not tell anyone about the extent of them. He was stopped in five rounds and died the day after the fight. Thankfully, cases like McClellan’s and Towell’s are very rare. But if it wasn’t such a taboo to admit distress perhaps they wouldn’t be used as such gruesome examples today.
“Quitters never win and winners never quit,” Chris Eubank Jnr tweeted in the aftermath of Dubois’ defeat, like he has after Kell Brook has lost in the past, in perhaps the most blatant nod to the warrior code. In countless interviews conducted with Junior I have never once heard him admit he’s been hurt. If that’s true, if he hasn’t felt horrific pain and anguish in a boxing ring, is it fair to pass judgement on those who have?
Similarly, go back and look at the archives of our 60-Second interviews; ninety per cent of boxers will name a fighter they defeated as their ‘toughest opponent’ as opposed to a fighter that actually beat them. Again, that is not a criticism of them it’s just another example of that brutal, unrelenting and unforgiving mindset.
What Daniel Dubois did against Joe Joyce on Saturday night was brave in the extreme. He knew his boxing family, his younger siblings who put him on a pedestal, were watching from the balcony. He knew that by taking a knee and not getting up, by admitting to the world he was in serious distress, he was breaking the rules that have shaped his every waking move for the last 12 years. He also knew, in that moment, that he could not continue. He should only be applauded for making that call.
I have encountered plenty of ex-boxers who lived by the warrior code, who took their punches without complaint but today, as they struggle to string a sentence together, they’re unable to explain why.