BY MATT VERRI
After two cancelled fight dates earlier in the year, it will be third time lucky when Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce finally face off in the ring on Saturday night.
The much-anticipated clash will see the British heavyweights put their unbeaten records on the line, with the winner able to push on towards the very elite of the division.
Dubois is just a year older now than Joyce was when he first took up the sport but has already earned himself a reputation as one of the brightest prospects in world boxing.
Trainer Martin Bowers has been in the South Londoner’s corner since the 23-year-old’s pro debut in 2017, advising him to forgo his Olympic plans and to turn over after just seven senior amateur fights. The pair’s relationship goes back to when Dubois was just six years old.
“I first met Dan when his dad brought him to the gym as a young kid,” Bowers said.
“His dad was like a lot of dads – he kept telling me his son was going to be the next world champion.
“To put my hand on my heart, I didn’t take a lot of notice because I hear that a lot. You want dads to say that, of course, but I didn’t really listen.
“Dan went away, grew up, and we brought him in to spar Ovill McKenzie ahead of his world title fight, and that’s when I really took notice of him.
“He’s always been very level-headed and hasn’t ever got carried away with any hype or expectation. We’ve been with him since he first turned over, and that’s obviously very special.”
Since his debut win inside 35 seconds, Dubois has gone past five rounds just once in his 15 fights to date.
He faces a man on Saturday with hugely impressive amateur pedigree, and inexperience on the big stage may be one of Dubois’ most significant disadvantages.
“Every now and then in boxing, without sounding too cavalier, you have to roll the dice and see what you’ve got,” Bowers said.
“I like to think all the boys that come out of our gym are in meaningful fights. I’m not saying you just want to get beaten up, but you have to have progressive fights otherwise people will lose interest in boxing.
“We don’t want the sport to go stale. So many times before we’ve been robbed of good domestic fights that didn’t happen and should have, like Ricky Hatton and Junior Witter.
“We weren’t going to avoid this fight. It’s a big hurdle and a big ask for Dan, but I don’t think it’s too early at all.”
The desire from both fighters to face off meant agreeing for the bout, originally scheduled to take place in April and then July, to take place behind closed doors and with reduced purses.
Dubois and Joyce both experienced fighting without a crowd in the summer, and from Bowers’ perspective it will be business as usual.
“What we learnt was that it’s no different behind closed doors,” he said. “The fighters are going to punch each other and get to work, as they do every day in the gym. It’s a bit more clinical, you can hear all the shots, but believe me there’s still an atmosphere.
“As a fighter and a team you want to walk out and hear the roar of a crowd, but we’re not lucky enough to be able to have that at the moment.
“People still want to see good sport, people still have to make a living, so we have to carry on.”
Many analysing the fight have suggested Dubois’ brutal power will be a real danger to Joyce early on, but should the action move into the later rounds the more experienced man might have the edge.
However, Bowers is in no mood to support that viewpoint, or to make any bold predictions of his own.
“You can’t predict these fights – if a 19 stone man hits you on the chops, your body can’t take that, “ he insisted.
“We saw with [Dillian] Whyte against [Alexander] Povetkin that in heavyweight boxing it only takes one lapse in concentration and the fight can be over.
“If you want to just watch really skillful boxing, you go to 11 stone and under – once you start getting over that, the fight can change in a split second. That’s why people are drawn to heavyweight boxing, it’s so unpredictable.
“Dan’s a puncher, and so if the opportunity comes along then that’s great, but he can also box too.
“There isn’t any calling this fight one way or the other, and we’re not foolish to be saying we can. All I can say is we’re coming to win, and that’s what we’ve prepared to do.”
Frank Warren has spoken of his desire to see Dubois in the ring with fighters such as Oleksandr Usyk should he get past Joyce, but this weekend provides too much of a test for the team to be contemplating what comes next.
“We’re not looking at things outside of this fight, that’s the job of the promoter to plan opponents and platforms,” Bowers said.
“As a team in the gym, we have to get over the challenge in front of us. There’s no point jumping over hurdles that aren’t even there yet.
“We have one job, and we’re focused on that. Any other talk doesn’t affect what we do at all.”
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