Knowing when to quit (featuring Iron Mike and Daniel Dubois)

I don’t need permission

Make my own decisions

Robert Barisford Brown, (1969- ), My Prerogative

There was an unerring symbiosis between Saturday night’s principle contests. The old and the new, the real and the forged, the premature and the belated. A pair of bookends to boxing’s top shelf of literature.

In London, unbeaten heavyweights Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois duked it out to an 8 second TikTok loop of crowd noise for a prize as old as the gloved sport they excel in. While across the pond, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr., two fighters who predate Jurassic Park, tried to dig up the remnants of their glorious past against an LP of greatest hits for a belt even the WBC couldn’t produce in time.

Their eight round exhibition, spliced by live performers they’ll have to ask their grand children to identify, and co-commentary from the rebooted Huggy Bear, proved surprisingly tolerable and itself struck just about the right chord in the musical maelstrom.

Nevertheless, in keeping with the year, there remained a sense of the surreal about the entire evening.

The favoured Daniel Dubois, 23, succumbed to injury and the greater will of Joe Joyce, 35, in the 10th round of their British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight title fight. Prophets who suggested Dubois early or Joyce late were rewarded but the outcome proved more nuanced than that two tone script.

Dubois was leading on the cards, and across the punditry team on duty, but looked vulnerable, emotionally at least, from the moment he cracked Joyce with a right hand and the older man stayed vertical. The confidence seemed to drain from the highly touted youngster. Joyce, in that implacable manner of his, which borrows a little from the old George Foreman that Tyson wouldn’t fight in the 90s, displayed variety and discipline throughout.

His long Amateur background, including tough five round contests in the WBSS and a Silver in the 2016 Olympics, along with better seasoning in the professional ranks saw him home. In contrast, Dubois would rally, be more offensive, but became stuck in a predictable straight-line 1-2 in doing so. Joyce eluded most, held those that pierced the guard and capitalised in the subsequent round when Dubois’ lack of confidence and need to rest resurfaced.

The Dubois corner, the spectacle benefitted from staying with the action between rounds, seemed to need to cajole their charge and prop up the ebbing Dubois confidence from the third. As his left eye closed further, Dubois neither adapted his position or his output. Just replaying the same tactics with diminishing faith in them.

Resulting information suggests the young contender had his orbital bone broken and is being assessed for damage to his nerves in the area. That he took a knee when cuffed on the injury in the 10th and took the count drew a range of theorising about Dubois’ character, naivety and prospects. None of which were supportive.

Quitting, as Dubois ostensibly did, is the last great taboo in a sport with precious little shame. Kell Brook was maligned for his decision to take a knee and depart from the Spence firing line with a similar injury in recent times. When Acelino Freitas turned away in the 10th round against Diego Corrales in 2004 he faced a barrage of criticism that he could never silence. And of course, once there was Duran’s No Mas.

In truth, informed by the blank gaze Dubois offered between rounds, quitting may be the wisest option he could take. Only time can tell whether he lacks the quintessential fortitude to prevail in a tough fight or overcome a more durable opponent than the 15 he met before Saturday. But what quitting did do, was eliminate the risk of worsening the injury he had accrued and never having the chance to try. Or the choice to.

He saved himself. Brickbats will follow, they, and fighters like Joyce, can only be dismissed by improved use of his fists and feet. He is young, he can return. He can succeed. But he will spend a career with the doubt hanging in the air.

The last time Mike Tyson was in a ring professionally he sat on the stool at the end of the sixth, able to rise but choosing not to. Deflated, sunk and bereft of any desire to suffer further. Tyson accepted it was over. He quit.

And yet, 15 years on, he was on screen again, dressed in the garb of his youth across the ring from a fellow icon. One who never really left the prize ring. However distant the memory of his greatness grew, Roy was the man who refused to quit. Continued. His motivation suckled by the knotted roots of his childhood.

Boxing demands inhuman suffrage from its combatants, its fans demand more even than that. But the final truth is, a fighter’s decision to stop, in the tumult of a fight, disfigured by pain or at the end of a career is theirs. And while the conclusions and theories of observers is part of life in the spotlight, boxers, like all of us, cannot be judged, at least not definitively, on any singular decision.

Dubois may still have his Barkley.


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