Tonight, Daniel Dubois returns to the ring for the first time since losing his unbeaten record to Joe Joyce last November, when he takes on Bogdan Dinu at the Telford International Centre.

Dubois entered his last fight as the odds-on favourite with many believing he could be the heir apparent to the heavyweight throne. Seven months on,  the bookmakers, once again, can’t see anything other than a victory for the Londoner (currently 1/33 with BetFred). However, that price is a greater reflection on his Romanian foe, than Dubois. The fickle nature of the sport dictates that the 23-year-old is now perceived to be damaged goods, that Joyce exposed mental frailties and technical deficiencies that ensure that ‘DDD’ will fall short at the highest level.

Had Dubois found himself on the wrong end of a close decision, greater concessions would have been made. After all, he was participating in just his 16th professional bout, against the 2016 Rio Olympic silver medallist. A loss was forgivable, perhaps understandable, even. Yet, for many, the manner in which it came about was not. Having sustained punishment from Joyce’s ramrod jab since the opening bell, a large swelling had formed around the left eye of the prospect, obscuring his vision. In the 10th round (while ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards) Dubois took a knee and, as the count continued, it became clear that ‘DDD’ would not rise in time. In the immediate aftermath, the word “quit” was bandied about by some fans and fighters alike. The young man had committed a cardinal sin – refusing to go out on his shield.

In the following weeks, it was confirmed that Dubois’ injuries were more severe than just bruising, he had sustained medial and orbital floor fractures. The ocuplastic surgeon confirmed that if ‘DDD’ had sustained further damage, he could have lost the vision in his left eye. That statement alone should have vindicated Dubois’ decision, yet doubts remain over his temperament, particularly when facing adversity.

In each fight from now on, Dubois will be facing greater scrutiny than ever before. While Dinu is unlikely to pose any great threat, those in attendance and watching at home on BT Sport will be keen to observe what – if any impact – new trainer Shane McGuigan has had on Dubois in their short time working together since the heavyweight parted company with previous coach and current manager Martin Bowers.

As the speculation continues regarding Dubois’ future career prospects, one man better placed than most to assess the Londoner’s strengths and weaknesses is Joe Joyce and ‘The Juggernaut’ believes Dubois made the correct call by prioritising his health ahead of glory.

“I respect his decision,” Joyce told Boxing Social. “I think it was the right thing to do at this stage of his career. He’s only 23 and he’s got a lot more years in the game, so why end his career without one eye, when he could just take a knee and live to fight another day?”

Joyce was always confident he would be victorious, however he had anticipated the fight being far more arduous that it transpired to be. Ultimately, Joyce (12-0, 11 KOs) controlled the bout with his jab. That had been a pivotal part of the game plan devised by Ismael Salas and refined by Steve Broughton, but it appeared to catch his rival by surprise as Dubois seemed to have no answer for it. Perhaps, ‘DDD’ had underestimated his opponent’s lead hand as it had been a shot that Joyce had neglected at times during his short career in the professional ranks. Understandably, Joyce was pleased that he was able to establish his jab with such effect early in the contest but was surprised at the ease with which he was able to do so.

“I was so accurate with it, I couldn’t miss,” he recalled. “It wasn’t like he was moving his head out of the way, so it was probably his fault, really [laughs]. I knew he’s got a great jab, I thought I would have to find my way around his jab. I thought it would be the battle of the jabs at first.

“I thought I executed everything as planned. There’s a few other combinations that I was working on in the gym. I landed most of the stuff I wanted to do, but I guess if it hadn’t been stopped from the eye, there was more to come in those last two rounds. He was already tired and ready to go, I think.”

Despite Joyce’s left hand producing the most memorable punches of the fight, Dubois’ right made an impact each time he landed it. Prior to the bout, much had been made of the young heavyweight’s vaunted punch power. In his 15 previous contests, only Kevin Johnson had heard the final bell. Johnson is master of the art of survival, rarely in range and constantly moving away from the blows to absorb their impact. 

Joyce can attest that Dubois hits hard. As such, when Dubois failed to beat the 10-count, Joyce wasn’t concerned with whether his rival had quit or not, he had a very different thought running through his mind.

“He’s very heavy-handed so I was just relieved when he took a knee and it was over,” he said with a laugh. “He’s very heavy-handed, if you stand still and let him hit you. In that fight, I was constantly moving my head, my body and my legs away from his power, so he couldn’t really generate as much power as [he would have] if I’d been a stationary target.  I thought I’d be in trouble, in danger, [I thought] I might have to get off the floor. I heard he’d been working on the body shots, like in the [Bryant] Jennings fight, where [Jennings] caught me with a body shot early on. I thought that would maybe be their tactic and he would have tried to go to the body a lot more.

“He put in his max effort to try and knock me out in the third round, but I weathered that and then he was tired for the rest of the round. I think it was a minute in. Then I just went back to work, on my bike, moving my feet and keeping him at the end of my jab. I felt comfortable. He was talking about his speed, but I could see his punches coming, just enough to brace or move out of the way to dampen the power of his shots.”

At times in the fight, it looked like a seasoned professional against a raw prospect. In many ways, that was the reality of the situation. Despite Joyce having had fewer bouts as a professional, he is 12 years Dubois’ senior. After taking up boxing in his 20s, ‘The Juggernaut’ had an extensive and illustrious amateur career before turning professional. Joyce had previously medalled at every major international tournament in the unpaid ranks. As a result, he is no stranger to performing under pressure. In contrast, the Joyce fight was Dubois’ first real test. As a natural introvert, ‘DDD’ never looked entirely comfortable dealing with the barrage of media attention the bout received. 

Joyce believes that the weight of expectation affected his opponent.

“He thought I was going to get knocked out in the first round,” he said emphatically. “I was looking at some of the comments and the bookies had him winning comfortably, so all the pressure was on him. For such a young guy, that was his biggest fight and I know he’s quite nervous, I think he’s a bit mentally weak in the nerves department. It was all in my favour.

“I was very relaxed, as normal. I don’t get nervous about fighting, I just make sure I am prepared and I just go in there with a winning, champion’s mentality. I’ve been doing it so long now. That’s where the experience comes in, I’ve been in all these big fights, it doesn’t really faze me, I just deal with the job at hand.”

If experience was the difference between the pair on the night, then at 23-years-old, Dubois is still young enough to develop and progress. Under McGuigan’s tutelage, he has given himself every possible opportunity. Only time will tell if Dubois will go on to be a world champion. However, by Joyce’s assessment, ‘DDD’ possesses enough raw talent that it remains possible.    

Main image: Queensberry Promotions.