Each day, ahead of the 5 x 5 bill in the Kingdom Arena in Saudi Arabia, BoxingScene will look forward to the bill and preview one of the major fights, culminating on Saturday with the heavyweight clash between Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder.

Few are giving Daniel Dubois much of a chance against the more experienced Filip Hrgovic when they meet in a heavyweight showdown on Saturday (June 1).

Croat Hrgovic is seen as one of the best heavyweight contenders in the world, at the front of the queue for the IBF title – which may or may not be on the line on Saturday, given Oleksandr Usyk’s motion to maintain his undisputed crown – while Dubois is seen, perhaps harshly, as psychologically fragile. 

Last time out, Dubois was able to show his mettle to the detractors when he survived some torrid rounds and came out on top, stopping big-mouth Jarrell Miller in the dying embers of their December 23 10-rounder.

However, it is the losses that have marred the Englishman’s reputation, despite the fact that he is 20-2 (19 KOs) and still just a baby for a heavyweight at 26.

He suffered serious eye damage against Joe Joyce and did not go on in 2020 and last year was competitive with Usyk before wilting in the ninth.

Miller came with the verbal smoke and Dubois found his way through it, and Hrgovic presents a different psychological challenge in that he claims to have scarred Dubois from a sparring session many years ago.

There is a feeling that Dubois knows he was bossed back then, but that was owing to his inexperience and youth.

Now, like a bullied child confronting their tormentor years on – as a new and improved version of the timid youngster they used to be – Dubois is keen to put the spectre of his intimidator in the rear-view mirror. Confronting an old enemy from the past is not easy, it’s even harder when they are one of the best heavyweights in the world and a big favorite going into a fight against you.

But Dubois has fear in his favor, and he can be bolstered by the experience of Miller and the so-called capitulations against Usyk and Joyce.  

He could be galvanized by those defeats, as trainer Stephen Edwards wrote in his weekly BoxingScene Mailbag last weekend while describing the types of fighting heart boxers have. Dubois might now have what “Breadman” calls Pride Heart.

“These are fighters who have had moments they weren’t proud of then the next time faced with a tough moment they were willing to die because of their pride,” Edwards wrote. “For example, Vitali Klitschko surrendered in his fight with Chris Byrd because of a legit arm injury. He caught criticism because he was winning. The next fight time faced with adversity vs Lennox Lewis, he was willing to lose an eye. I think that was directly contributed to the Byrd fight.”

Dubois showed against Miller that he is prepared to go to the well. 

The problem here is that Hrgovic is better than Miller. But Dubois’ punch power is terrifying, as those who have felt it – even the trainers who hold the mitts and body protectors – attest to.

A human face is not meant to take shots like that, and Dubois can never be written off because of it.

The psychology of Hrgovic-Dubois is intriguing. 

Along with fellow 5 x 5 heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Zhilei Zhang, they were interviewed in a roundtable format by TNT Sports, and the Croat was asked what he saw when he looked at Dubois. 

“I see big biceps, but I don’t see big balls, you don’t fight with biceps, you fight with the balls, and with the heart,” said Hrgovic.

The show featured several tense moments of back and forth between them. 

Dubois: “Let’s find out about that. Let’s find out about who’s got heart. Let’s put this c**t to sleep.”

Hrgovic: “I can’t wait, man. I want it to be like that. You should be aggressive, come forward and I counter you and you’re going to sleep.”

Dubois: “No way. I’m ready to go out there, put on a show and put him to sleep.”

Hrgovic feels he can beat anyone in the world, and told Dubois he “was getting smashed.”

He then asked whether Dubois went to hospital after the sparring session. Dubois shook his head. “Why are you lying?” asked Hrgovic.

Dubois: “I was 17.”

Hrgovic: “You weren’t 17. How old are you now?”

Dubois: “Whatever I was, it doesn’t matter now. How did that spar end?”

The animosity simmered just beneath the surface, but there is a chance that, on Saturday, it brims over. 

Dubois’ promoter Frank Warren admitted that the Londoner is “in the fight of his life” but added, “This is his time.”

The 31-year-old Hrgovic disagrees. The man from Zagreb is 17-0 (14 KOs) and walked through poor Mark De Mori on the same December 23 card that Dubois bested Miller on.

The biggest win of Hrgovic’s career was over the aforementioned Zhang, but that was close and controversial although he has never been at the front of anyone’s queue to fight. 

Hrgovic is sturdy, conventional, works the body well, was rattled and dropped by Zhang (no disgrace there), and when he’s on top puts his shots together well using his fast hands. 

Speed could be an important factor. Dubois’ brute force is worthless if Hrgovic is getting his shots off first and beating him to the punch, but it will only take a moment for Hrgovic to overstay his welcome in close and he could pay a price.

Dubois is having his third fight with London heavyweight specialist Don Charles in the corner, and has been looking great in sparring, but Hrgovic’s pedigree cannot be ignored. He was a gold medallist in the 2015 European amateur championships and won bronze at the 2016 Olympics, losing a tight decision to eventual winner Tony Yoka who, incidentally, is now trained by Charles. 

Dubois is likely a far livelier underdog than people might imagine, and it is tempting, very tempting, to call the upset. But the pick is for Hrgovic to survive some rocky periods and eventually come out a winner by decision with cards in the region of 116-112.