It’s the hardest week in boxing life and in Daniel Dubois’ time.
On Saturday night, at an outdoor venue in Poland, he will be first to the ring and listen as nearly 40,000 people cheer on Ukrainian fight and boxidol Oleksandr Usyk.
It is a unique series of events, a fight for the world heavyweight title full of emotion and pride for Usyk and the millions of Ukrainians living in Poland or near the border. It is a return home from home that has become necessary, a vital piece of resistance in the bloody war.
Usyk will fight closer to his hometown of Kyiv than he has in eight years; The 36-year-old won his cruiserweight world titles away from home in Poland, Latvia and Russia. He defended the belts against local fighters in Germany, America and England. He’s a boxing sweetheart, 20 bout unbeaten, Olympic gold medalist and volunteer in the Ukraine Defense Forces. Maybe he’s just changing the dictionary definition of “national idol”.
In late 2021, he won the three heavyweight belts he still wears by defeating Anthony Joshua at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, less than 15 miles from where Joshua lives. Saturday’s fight in Wroclaw is Usyk’s homecoming, make no mistake. His fans can travel by bus from Kiev to Wroclaw for less than 20 pounds; It lasts 18 hours, but that makes it even more of a pilgrimage to watch a national hero fight. And they will come. The beautiful Gothic city on the Oder will be overrun this weekend. The flags will be out.
Dubois will finally have the pressure off his shoulders for the first time in his short but intense boxing life. The 25-year-old will start as an underdog for the first time in 21 fights. He turned pro in 2017 while still a wide-eyed teenager; His progress was treacherous and he felt invincible against many men who stood no chance. In 2020 there was a very bad night behind closed doors and under Covid restrictions.
Dubois was unbeaten in 15 fights at the time and had to go head-to-head with Joe Joyce, who was also unbeaten. Dubois had stopped or knocked out 14 of his 15 victims. It was a spectacular fight with Joyce, a spectacular mistake, and Dubois – who was up by two scorecards – suffered a knee in round 10. His left cheekbone was damaged, his vision was lost in that eye, and his resistance was broken. It was tough, a reminder that even in modern boxing there are real dangers.
It wasn’t over and Dubois was back – a little smarter, a little wiser and a better heavyweight for the loss. He changed coaches, moving from Martin Bowers to Shane McGuigan. Since defeating Joyce, Dubois has fought and won four times, stopping his men in the second, first, fourth and third rounds. A few months ago, around the time the Usyk fight was agreed, Dubois left McGuigan and joined Don Charles, an underrated and sweet trainer.
The simple – but misleading – narrative of the fight seems to be that Dubois has a shot at a puncher; Well, all heavyweights have a chance at a puncher. Anthony Joshua completed 24 rounds with Usyk and he definitely had a chance to bat. It takes a lot more than just a puncher chance to defeat Usyk. Luckily Charles understands the game.
“You have to keep busy, you have to make him fight, you have to do it physically, and Daniel can do that,” Charles said. The couple seems to have bonded very quickly.
In 2012, Charles Derek took Chisora to Munich to fight world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who was a knockout machine. “Del Boy” lost on points, but he pressed, came close, punched and dealt with the partisan crowd.
The WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight belts are the official awards and the fight went to cash prizes; Dubois will rake in about $2 million that night. The real price, however, lies in the surprise and monetary gain that comes with the disruption caused.
Don Charles can help Dubois on Saturday. And Dubois will need all the help he can get to silence the crowd and hurt Usyk.