“DANIEL’S JUST WALKED IN,” shouts an unidentified voice in the direction of the office adjacent to PUG, Don Charles’ Finchley-based gym.
“The show must go on,” the trainer, sat behind his desk, in turn tells Boxing News, mentally and physically preparing for one of the last challenging training sessions he will conduct with one of the world’s heaviest-handed heavyweights ahead of his fight with another fighter widely considered the very finest in the world.
It is perhaps little surprise that that heavyweight, Daniel Dubois, wasn’t the one to announce his arrival. In every way in which he is in his most natural environment when engaged in some physical activity – at 25 years of age that increasingly means targeting something with his destructive fists – he remains indifferent to verbally expressing himself.
When he enters the open-plan gym decorated in his new trainer’s image he is confronted by two rings and considerably more evocative artwork. Over the first, smaller, ring is a print of a lion’s face accompanied by the words “Welcome to the lion’s den”; over the second there is another of Charles and his son George Fox; there are further prints of Muhammad Ali, Rocky Balboa, Mike Tyson and Jack Dempsey, and posters advertising Derek Chisora’s fights with Vitali Klitschko, Tyson Fury, Carlos Takam and David Haye.
The spiritual Charles, who has already been speaking of “energy”, “karma”, “destiny” and “the universe”, takes a seat at a small table between those two rings to prepare Dubois’ hand wraps while the heavyweight first uses the speedball and then climbs into the smaller of the two to shadowbox. As with most gyms the two of them will have visited there exists a buzz built on the activity also unfolding in the weights area, and another observer sat on a bench using his mobile phone.
After Dubois moves to the bigger of the two rings and starts by throwing his right hand, Charles joins him to start wrapping that same hand at the same time that they speak among themselves and that whatever is being said is drowned out from the rest of the world by the dance music that is being played.
Charles and Dubois, who had been training at altitude in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in southern Spain, have been back in London for only a few days and are a few days away from flying to Wroclaw.
“This ring will feel small – you’ve been training in a massive ring,” Charles tells his fighter. They had used, in Spain, a ring that measures 24ft by 24ft; the dimensions of 20ft by 20ft they are using in Finchley are identical to those Dubois will fight in in Poland.
Charles, in a demonstration of the bullishness that typifies his involvement with another of the fighters he holds so dear, is happy to be starting their training session now that Dubois is fully warmed up. The temperature of the again near-emotionless Dubois, stood opposite a man wearing a t-shirt that reads “DDD training camp, Sierra Nevada, Granada”, is considerably more difficult to gauge.
While Dubois, calf muscles bulging, returns to shadow boxing and accompanies throwing his right hand with “sshh” – a rare sound from his mouth – Charles ties one string from one corner post to that opposite it and another between the remaining two to form an X across the ring that will be used to help hone Dubois’ head movement. He then gets out of the ring to turn on the light above it, and to pull a floor-to-ceiling white curtain from one wall to the other, separating the two rings and ensuring that only those Charles is happy to watch Dubois’ preparations will watch.
The trainer – exuding the energy of an individual daring to revive the heavyweight division – starts observing Dubois’ efforts from a stool outside of the ring, and then stands to lean forward on the ring’s ropes. “Bring your left hand up higher,” he calmly instructs. “Protect yourself when you’re rolling.” “He looks trim,” he then accurately tells BN. Referencing the previous day’s media workout, he says, “We showed just enough – we’re serving up the main course on the 26th”. “That’s the way, baby,” he then approvingly tells Dubois.
Dubois’ father Dave has since arrived and taken his place in a seat behind the curtain. “As you’re doing it, creep forward, with pressure – make him breath heavy,” continues the paternal Charles, conducting a training session that is one part focused on Dubois’ technique, one part feel-good. “That’s the one, Dan.”
“Give me one more of that, then we’ll glove up and start playing.”
Another figure wearing a Kronk Gym t-shirt arrives and makes his way behind the curtain to stand by the ring. His instructions to Dubois – “As soon as you turn it, get under there; that’s what I’m talking ‘bout” – reveal him to be American. It is James Ali Bashir, once the great Emanuel Steward’s assistant trainer and, more relevantly, from December 2013 the trainer of Oleksandr Usyk for three years.
“Walk him down; use your right hand to parry; shield with your left,” Charles says. “You’re gonna make him burn energy,” says Bashir, before explaining to Dubois how he consistently needs to be threatening with his hands.
Bashir next talks to Ian Duberry, who Charles has long described as his “right-hand man”, about how he and Charles – who he has been living with since their return from Spain – spent the previous evening. “We got food and a spiritual lesson [at a local Caribbean restaurant],” he says. “The Rasta brother?” Duberry confirms, before joining Charles in the ring to put one glove on Dubois’ left hand when Charles takes the right while giving instructions related to Usyk’s jab.
“Dan, don’t forget, beat the drum [Usyk’s body],” Bashir says from outside of the ring. “I don’t care how many sit-ups he do, he don’t like that.” “Yeah,” comes another of Dubois’ one-word replies. There is little question that he has been prepared to fight an aggressive fight that involves him cutting off the ring and that, for all of his innocence, demands that he is rough and attempts to impose himself on and bully Usyk.
When Duberry gets Dubois’ gumshield, Charles is determined to make sure that the same bottle of water Dubois has been using all evening – instead of the others scattered by the ring – is the one used to clean it out. Charles, who has since adopted the body bag, gradually tells Dubois in response to the heavyweight’s movements: “Keep stalking him. That’s his pattern. If you see any gaps, close them down.”
“Come off that line,” he then says, before exhaling in satisfaction when Dubois delivers in the way that they have previously been working on. “Pressure, put pressure,” says Duberry. “That’s it.”
“Left foot first,” says Charles, the target of Dubois’ body punching. “That’s right. Put your arse through it – like he said. That’s right.”
“Spin,” adds Duberry. “Punch anything you see.”
“He throws one punch you throw five, you understand?” Bashir rhetorically asks.
“Don’t wait for him,” Charles says, before, regardless of the padding he is wearing, one punch hurts him enough to make him wince. “That shocked me – I wasn’t ready for that.”
Charles’ pride in Dubois’ perceived progress has led to a smile involuntarily appearing on his face. For all that he is capable of being both warm and gentle, even by a heavyweight’s standards he is a big man, and yet he is sent backwards every time, with the pads, he catches one of Dubois’ right hands. “Spin off the other way.” His voice has changed, and he has become louder, because of the punishment he is absorbing. “I weigh 130kg, Dan. I know what I’m feeling – he weighs 25kg less than me.
“That’s the behaviour. Be physical.”
Bashir calls Charles over to quietly offer his observations. “Stay in a fighting shell,” Dubois is then told. The heavyweight spits on the canvas, before being corrected by Charles on the right hand that ends a four-punch combination.
When they have finished on the body bag, Harvey Dykes, a professional cruiserweight and Dubois’ sparring partner, climbs into the ring and is given instructions by the trainer, who then tells Duberry, “Throw every bottle away – he can’t drink the wrong water”.
With Dykes on the back foot, Dubois returns to attempting to cut off the ring. “That’s it, champ,” Charles says. When Dubois uses his shoulder, he approves with, “There you go – that’s the behaviour”. “Make him uncomfortable,” follows, as do occasional instructions from Duberry to Dykes.
Charles, who looks closer to his 61 years having removed his hat to reveal a bald head, continues to occasionally smile at what he is witnessing. His efforts, combined with those of Duberry, Bashir and Dykes, to enhance the preparations of Dubois capture a close-knit gym.
A further instruction comes from Bashir who, more than any other, appears to be prioritising Dubois’ psyche. “Menacing behaviour,” he says. “You can get away with that.”
“Same again,” adds Charles. “Then we’ll speak to coach [Bashir].”
Another period of fighting inside and clinching follows, after which Dykes continues to retreat, is backed into a corner, and is on the receiving end of Dubois letting his hands go. Dykes soon backs into Charles, who, consistently observing from close range, laughs when he realises he has unintentionally blocked Dykes’ escape and condemned him to further punishment. “Regroup,” follows the instruction to Dubois. “Keep your hands up.”
“Mr B, we need you in the office,” Charles tells Bashir, who in turns climbs into the ring, speaks to Charles and Duberry, and then encourages Dubois to punch his opponent on the arms. While Charles turns to put the body bag back on, Bashir leads Dubois’ pad work with his bare hands.
Dubois, in turn targeting Charles while wearing gloves that read “Fly DDD”, shakes his right hand after another punch. “Is your hand hurt?” his trainer asks. “I don’t want you uncomfortable.” He makes an immediate recovery, but is swiftly met by Charles saying, “No, no, no, no” and Duberry, simultaneously, telling him, “Don’t open up”.
When the training session has finished and Dubois has removed his top, a strong, lean torso is revealed. It is little wonder he has spent so much of the evening looking so fluid. It is similarly little surprise that all involved are so quietly happy when, after photos are taken with Dykes’ disabled nephew, it is at its end.