Joe Joyce, a 3-1 underdog and the antithesis of a growling heavyweight beast, forced his younger unbeaten opponent, Daniel Dubois, to quit in the 10th round at the historic Church House in Westminster on Saturday night and he will now take the British, Commonwealth and European titles on to the world stage.
When Dubois took a knee in centre ring, his left eye shut, he disappointed his army of supporters and Joyce, the most unassuming of champions, quietly raised his arm in triumph.
“I have to be honest, he quit, he took a knee,” said Carl Frampton. “I had him a point up. It was a close fight.” The opinion was shared by the former world cruiserweight champion David Haye. “Joe said what he was going to do. Now Joe’s ready for his world title shot.”
Dubois has some serious questions to ask about his commitment to the hardest game, because that was not the way champions give up their titles. “He’s going to face a lot of criticism,” Frampton said ringside on BT Sport.
“What can I say?” an embarrassed Dubois said immediately afterwards. “He caught me with a good jab. It just happened, man. I tried my best ,but I couldn’t see. I’m a tough guy. I’ll come again, for sure.”
Joyce said: “Respect to Daniel. He’s got some power and he can come again. But with my experience I’ve learned to ride it. I was happy to take it.”
Joyce, the 35-year-old Putney heavyweight introduced to boxing by Sid Khan, the mayor’s brother, rammed his lumbering but draining left hand into the champion’s eye from the opening bell.
They touched gloves with respect and unblinking stares. Dubois’s fists were younger, slightly quicker and heavier, but Joyce brought knowledge and a better professional CV. He had beaten two world title challengers. His demeanour was eerily calm.
Dubois, 23 and brimming with promise, opened up at the start of the second. He brought the confidence of 10 stoppages in his 11 professional wins to his work, not to mention the expectations and backing of his promoter, Frank Warren. A string of heavy rights had Joyce holding on mid-round in the second.
Dubois went looking for the knockout in the third, and Joyce, upright but nervous, was swimming in deep water. Dubois jolted his head back and started to vary his attack; Joyce had to draw on his experience to stay with him. There was a calmness about Joyce as he stuck to his steady, tree-trunk jab and Dubois’s face was beginning to swell.
Dubois now surely realised he was in the most demanding examination of his credentials in his young career, and he responded well in the fifth, stepping up the pace. But the juggernaut kept rolling. He was the epitome of stubbornness and soaked up some serious shots.
Neither lacked for motivation at the halfway stage, despite the lack of paying customers, testament to their commitment – and neither moved from their pre-fight plan as the battle continued along predictable lines.
Joyce, whose Cuban trainer, Ismael Salas, had been sent home during the week after testing positive for Covid-19, had a target: the fast-closing left eye of Dubois. And he went for it with his stiff jab. But Dubois exploded into life at the start of the seventh and took the round.
Dubois, one-eyed and single-minded, found his fighting heart as he increased the weight and frequency of his punches in the eighth. A more fleet-footed opponent than Joyce might have made more of Dubois’s bruised semi-blindness but he did enough to win the round.
There was more tension than drama as two superbly conditioned heavyweights entered the championship rounds. Joyce, straight-backed and expressionless, continued to rely on his ramrod jab, Dubois hunted for space to land his dynamite right.
There was nothing in it with three rounds left. If there were a crowd, they would have been on their feet – and then there was a turn of the most unexpected kind, Dubois sinking to a knee after a strong left jab that seemed to extract the fight from him. He took the shot and pawed at his eye, glanced at his corner then took the knee. It was not the most glorious exit, as Ian John-Lewis counted him out.
“Joe’s in the driving seat now,” Warren said later.