In an otherwise uneventful heavyweight title defense for Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday, there was a moment of genuine intrigue. After losing the first four rounds, Daniel Dubois connected with a piercing right hand to Usyk's beltline in the beginning of the fifth round that sent Usyk to the canvas. Referee Luis Pabon immediately ruled that the punch was a low blow. Usyk stayed on the canvas withering in pain and Pabon encouraged Usyk to take the allotted five minutes to recover.
By now the exact location of the punch has been scrutinized from multiple vantage points, and with the accompanying freeze frames and hysterics. In real time, it seemed like a borderline punch to me, the type of shot where I've seen it ruled both ways by referees. It certainly wasn't the most egregious low blow I've ever witnessed, but that's not the point. Was it a foul? It could have been.
Even if video replay was utilized, I don't believe that it was clear enough to overturn Pabon's ruling. These are the breaks or lack of breaks that occur in every sport. Perhaps with a different referee Dubois gets awarded the knockdown. And maybe Usyk finds a way to get up before the count of ten; maybe he doesn't. Now we're going down the path of hypotheticals that become unknowable.
|Usyk (right) connecting with a left hand|
Photo courtesy of Queensberry Promotions
I am no fan of Luis Pabon. In fact, I coined the turn "Paboned" many years ago to indicate how often he has messed things up in the ring. He has bad habits of being arbitrary with his rulings, of making things up as he goes along and losing control of fights. But here, I don't fault his initial decision.
However, I didn't like how he handled the immediate aftermath. He encouraged Usyk to stay down. Even when Usyk was ready to continue, Pabon delayed restarting the action. And Usyk was of course the house fighter on the night, as well as the heavyweight champion. In real time I felt that Pabon was bending over backwards to give Usyk even more time than was needed to restart the fight.
Dubois and his team may feel that he was robbed of his opportunity to win the heavyweight championship and if I were representing him, I'm sure I would feel similarly.
But I am also not going to cry for Daniel Dubois, who only was in this position to fight for a championship because a hometown referee refused to stop his last bout after he went to the canvas three times in the first round, two of which weren't even from a punch, but from his own volition; he was clearly injured. Furthermore, Dubois scored a knockout in that fight well after the bell and yet no replay was used to validate the referee's decision. To my eyes, Dubois lacked legitimacy to even fight for a championship.
I am also not going to cry for Daniel Dubois because he did so little throughout the rest of Saturday's fight, both before and after that shot in the fifth round. It's no crime to be outboxed by Usyk, and it certainly wasn't for Dubois, who was a significant underdog coming into the fight. But after that moment in the fifth, Usyk was vulnerable. He was still hurting from the body shot. But Dubois didn't really go after him; he didn't try to hunt Usyk down. He let Usyk regain control of the fight with minimal resistance. If Dubois fully believed that he was there to win the heavyweight crown, this was his opportunity with a weakened opponent, and he never got out of second gear.
By the seventh round, Usyk was so confident in his position in the fight that he was going for the stoppage. By the eighth he dropped Dubois with a two-punch combination where he landed a nasty temple shot. Usyk ended the fight in the ninth with a pulverizing jab. Dubois took a knee and the ref waved the fight off.
And finally, I will not cry for Daniel Dubois because his whole career has been the product of a promoter who had gamed the system for this world title shot. Dubois somehow was a mandatory contender for Usyk without beating a legitimate top-ten fighter at any point.
Throughout his career, Dubois has been "positioned" for greatness by Frank Warren without ever having proven it. He was knocked out by the only other top fighter he faced in Joe Joyce and yet somehow he had the opportunity to fight for a world title shot well before Joyce did, despite Warren promoting both fighters.
If you want to accuse Pabon of crimes committed against the sport of boxing for his performance on Saturday, that's fine, but I would argue that the "rise" of Daniel Dubois has been a far worse crime perpetrated on the sport. The trajectory of his career is representative of so much of what is wrong with contemporary boxing. His biggest accomplishment as a fighter is having a savvy operator as a promoter. He had earned nothing. He was maneuvered. He was positioned. But he never had to prove it in the ring against top-level competition. He did not deserve to be in the ring on Saturday for multiple reasons, not just in the lead up to the Usyk fight, but throughout his entire career. And while he is not the only fighter who can be accused of this, it's a stain on the sport.
Dubois is still only 25, which is a relative baby in the heavyweight division, but he's taken two bad losses. Although he certainly cracks hard enough to have respectable heavyweight power, he doesn't appear to have great punch resistance. And it's also telling that both of his losses have essentially happened because he could not defend the jab, a worrying sign. Although it is always unwise to completely dismiss a heavyweight with a punch, I wouldn't buy too much stock in Dubois' future.
Warren and his team have already called for an immediate rematch. And instead of using this opportunity to take a step back and work with Dubois to get him to improve in the ring, Warren clearly wants to use the same playbook for Dubois that he employed after the Joyce loss; take the quick money. Perhaps Warren doesn't think Dubois will ever get better than he is. Maybe he's not a huge believer in his future either.
But it didn't have to be this way. Dubois was never given proper developmental fights. He never had enough real opponents to develop his craft. So maybe now he is just a flawed fighter with a punch, but maybe he could have been much more. And maybe Usyk would have beaten the count on Saturday. We'll just never know.