Oleksandr Usyk was down for a significant period for the first time in his professional career before he knocked out Daniel Dubois to retain his unified heavyweight titles.
The shot was ruled a low-blow, and will dominate much of the conversation in the aftermath.
Dubois stepped up to fight for the WBO, WBA and IBF belts that Usyk took from Anthony Joshua in 2021 after winning everything there is to win down a division at cruiserweight. He retained them in their rematch a year later and now faced his first mandatory challenger.
The 25-year-old Brit found himself with his shot following four consecutive knockout victories after a sole career defeat against Joe Joyce, the last of which was beating WBA Regular Champ, Trevor Bryan.
Set at a packed Tarczynski Arena in Wroclaw, Poland, the K2 Promotions card was as close to a homecoming as Usyk could manage given the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine. The area currently houses many of his countrymen and emotions were at fever pitch for a national hero, creating the ultimate lion’s den for young Dubois.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy opened the main event with a touching video message. Dubois – who weighed in lighter than expected – then entered the ring relaxed.
Seeing Usyk walk out in front of a majority of his own fans was a sight to behold, both given the situation and the fact that he’s been a road warrior for most of his career. He dedicated the fight to those on the front line.
Usyk landed a solid southpaw jab early, his lead hand already exceptional for drawing the Brit’s defence down. Dubois wasn’t fully committing with shots in the first, with some signs that he was struggling against the lefty stance.
The challenger came out a little busier in the second, but his shots lacked the spite many felt he needed to impose himself. Usyk landed a great straight left, and then another entering the final minute. Solid stuff from the champion, who went two up.
A one-two from Usyk woke Dubois up in the third, and the Brit found some success with his jab.
He committed with an attack in the fourth and was millimetres away, but Usyk’s defensive movement came into play, swivelling round his foe away from trouble and onto the front foot. A more aggressive chapter for Dubois, who was getting closer.
Dubois dropped Usyk with a body shot early in the fifth, and the Ukrainian really struggled to get his wind back. It was immediately judged a low-blow, and he was given over three minutes to recover. The replay showed the shot looping up and landing right on the belt line.
He immediately got on the front foot – for the first time in the fight – but the action quickly slowed back to a stand-off. Usyk worked a rhythm back up as Dubois aimed for the body. The Ukrainian scored a big left hand with Dubois, and another before the bell. Dubois threw and landed after the fact.
Round six saw both fighters with fires underneath them. Dubois landed in almost the same spot as before and caught a look from Usyk, but this time nothing from the referee. The challenger certainly growing into it against a less patient champion, with a good shot on the bell.
In the seventh, Usyk kept his guard tight over the body after another few from Dubois. He landed three impressive left hands in a row on Dubois’ chin in the final minute, though. A great round of heavyweight boxing, and fast-paced going into the eighth – a shootout with one man going for the head, the other for the body.
A better beginning for Dubois, who was certainly racking up confidence if not points. Confidence comes with a price though, and he was down from a flurry in the final seconds. He made the count and was up for the bell.
Blood from the nose of the Brit in the ninth, and Usyk was landing clean with his work. A southpaw right toppled Dubois and he couldn’t stand for the referee’s count. A clinical shot that saw Dubois on one knee similar to his Joyce loss.
Usyk retains in front of an adoring crowd. A spirited heavyweight performance from the champion, big heart from Dubois who was very heavy on his feet by the end, and a very controversial talking point with the low-blow. To kick off the debate, Dubois and his promoter Frank Warren said he had been robbed.
For Usyk’s part, he said he would be ready to fight Tyson Fury tomorrow.