Joe Joyce exploded onto the world scene as Daniel Dubois was counted out on one knee in the tenth round of their fight for the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles at Church House, Westminster.
It was a stunning ending to an engrossing fight. Dubois, whose left eye had started swelling up in the fourth round, took a heavy jab right on the eye at the start of the tenth. He pawed at the eye with his glove, then took a knee, where he stayed for all of Ian John-Lewis’s count.
Experience won it for Joyce. He was always confident, always calm. He took the best Dubois could offer then took him out of his comfort zone and he crumbled.
Joyce, 35, the 2016 Olympic super-heavyweight silver medallist, had been widely written off. He was as big as a 3-1 outsider against Dubois, who had been impressive in his professional career so far but was untested.
“I’ve taken some big shots and respect to Daniel, he has got some power and he is young, fresh and hungry,” Joyce said. “He can come again. But I have felt power like that before and with my experience I have learnt to ride it and come back and I am blessed with a good chin, so I can keep going and keep moving forward. I felt his power and I was happy to take it, but preferably not take it.
“I started looking at the eye and it was starting to swell up. I was quite comfortable landing [the jab] was moving away from his right and trying not to get too close, because that was when he was going to let them go and try not to get backed up on the ropes.”
While it was only Joyce’s 12th professional fight, he had done hundred of rounds at a high level in the amateurs. He could now be in line to face Oleksandr Usyk for the vacant WBO title if the belt is dropped by Anthony Joshua. Joyce met Usyk seven years ago over five rounds in the World Series of Boxing. He lost on points, but that was all part of Joyce’s education.
Back in 2016, Joyce and Dubois had sparred, when both were on the Great Britain squad. Joyce was on his way to the Rio Olympics, while Dubois was considered such a long-term project they thought he would go to the Paris Games in 2024.
That was too long for Dubois to wait and he went professional. But having blasted his way through to this level, he came unstuck in very uncomfortable circumstances. Presuming his eye is OK – he was taken to hospital after the fight – he is, at 23, a rebuilding project and may take some time to shake of accusations that he quit the first time he had suffered adversity in his career.
“He caught me with a good jab and the jab was pretty accurate,” Dubois said. “I couldn’t see out of the eye, it just happens man. I can’t explain it, he just pinged it, I couldn’t see out of it, I was trying my best and it happened. I’ve been hit hard but it was the positioning, on the eye. I’m a tough guy, I will come again.”
Dubois was happy to box on the back foot in the early exchanges, but landed a good overhand right early. It was Joyce, though, who controlled things, pressing forward behind the jab, without over-committing himself and keeping Dubois at bay.
There was a livelier start from Dubois in the second, though, as he swung away with both hands, catching Joyce and forcing him backwards, He came out fast in the third round too, but after catching Joyce flush early in the round, Joyce rode the punches and came back in the second half of the round to dictate behind the jab again.
In the fourth round, Joyce kept prodding away with the jab and, at the end of the round, Dubois was starting to look a bit banged up. Dubois did better in the fifth, landing some clubbing hooks, but he now looked well out of his comfort zone.
Dubois kept trying to punch his way out of trouble, but the distress signs were starting to show, while Joyce was getting more and more comfortable. In the sixth, Joyce caught Dubois clean with a chopping hook on the side. Dubois came back in the seventh, but the eighth and ninth rounds were dominated by Joyce. The end came 36 seconds into the tenth.
At the ending, two judges had Dubois ahead, one by two rounds, one by a remarkable eight. The other had Joyce ahead by two.
Dubois said he had no idea who was ahead.
“I was just fighting,” he said. “Just trying to figure out a way I could break him down and get inside him and let my shots work. He rode the punches well. I was probably a little trigger happy. I need to be smarter and maybe pace myself a bit more.”
At 23, Dubois has plenty of time, but it will be a long road.