Joe Joyce was the old-fashioned hero on a night when reputations, legacies and promises collided as old and young men chased elusive boxing dreams. It is never easy to hunt down lost causes in a sport that refuses any type of compassion for losers: boxing can be the coldest of trades.
In London, at the regal Church House in the shadow of Big Ben, Joyce broke the heart and damaged the left eye of Daniel Dubois in round ten and in Los Angeles Mike Tyson and Roy Jones fought to a draw over eight rounds. There was dignity and shock in the fights, but perhaps not in the fight you expected.
Tyson and Jones was not the ugly freak show I feared and Tyson’s post-fight humility was heartbreaking at times. It’s not over for Roy and Mike and the Legends Only League of sporting gentlemen; they were more than just two souls chasing their youth, more than just two fighting relics in a bad fantasy. Tyson has lost his power, Jones has lost his speed, but through squinted eyes, not rose-tinted glasses, they looked like the glorious pair from two decades ago. It was, I know, an illusion, but it was so much better than feared.
The end of Dubois and Joyce was quite disturbing, a sudden jolt to the senses at the end of a quite exceptional fight. The British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight titles and a number one position with the WBO were the tangible prizes in a bruising battle of wills and desires. However, it was just about a fight in the end, two unbeaten men risking too much, too soon and it might end up being for too little. There was damage done in the Church House brawl and it could last.
Joyce is a young 35, he won for the 12th time and Dubois looked during the fight, as his mouth and nose filled with blood, like a very old man of 23. Dubois lost for the first time in 16 fights when he turned away after a jab connected with his shut left eye, turned to the side, took a step and then went down on one knee. The referee reached ten, Dubois stood, the fight was over. It was a shock, a massive shock; Dubois had quit, had crossed boxing’s blurred line.
Joyce had fought a smart fight, rolling away from the feared right of Dubois, not taking risks, but controlling the fight with powerful and accurate jabs. It was quite brilliant at times and Dubois had no answer to the simplicity of Joyce’s plan. Joyce had to take some savage punches, but his eyes remained clear as he held, jabbed away and stayed calm. It was flawless from him.
Dubois offered no excuses in a brutal post-fight interview. The eye hurt, a visit to hospital revealed a fracture, possible nerve damage, and the pain was simply too much. He quit, that is clear, but judging him harshly conveniently ignores the slow beating he took and the pulverising power of Joyce’s jab. I could see the pain clearly from about round five or six. Dubois was trapped in the middle of a slow beating, there was simply no way out and he had no idea what to do. Martin Bowers, in his corner, kept him in the fight and he was relying on instinct and guts for several rounds before the end.
In defeat, in taking a knee like he did, he has left himself exposed to a lot of abuse - he will now need to be very brave going forward and his handlers will need to be very careful. However, it is foolish to imagine that the journey back will be easy.
Joyce now gets a very real chance to fight at some point for the WBO version of the heavyweight title; the belt is held by Anthony Joshua, but it is a cluttered arena of planned, dreamed and desired showdowns. Joyce being in top position does not mean he gets a title fight anytime soon. Joyce might not be ready just yet for Joshua.
On Saturday night in the ring at Church House there was an ominous moment, a sign of the pain and confusion to come, in the opening five or six seconds of the first round. Joyce cracked home the first of his jabs, it landed flush, Dubois was shaken, he stepped back, his eyes watering and his nose hurt. It was a simple punch. The sport’s simplest punch, and Joyce started to land again and again.
At the start of round ten two judges had Dubois in front, one had Joyce leading, but a few seconds later the numbers became irrelevant when Joyce connected and Dubois folded. Joyce had promised to break the heart of Dubois, the shattered orbital bone was a bonus, just grim collateral, on a night of raw drama in a fight where risk, rewards and bravery all combined in an uneasy mix.
It was a strange night for old, new and fallen boxing heroes.