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Daniel Dubois: ‘Many things make up a heavy hitter – starting with who your parents are’

They say you can tell a lot about someone by their handshake. But in Daniel Dubois’s case, it is more of a decoy.

From how gently he greets me, I reason he harbours a very real concern that he’d grind my bones to fine dust, if only he were to apply a little more pressure. So I’ll take the polite, cautious hint of grip, which he offers in a brief break from hopping and shadow-boxing.

Contrary to what his handshake would suggest, those hulking fists – those blunt objects – have done plenty of bludgeoning in the British heavyweight’s young career. “I don’t like to take too much pleasure in it, but I do enjoy it,” Dubois says, when asked whether he has actively savoured knocking out 19 of the 22 professionals who have shared a ring with him.

“For me now, it’s just business. This is what I do, I want to be the best at it. I love this sport, but it could go either way, this isn’t a scripted thing; you have to write your own script.”

The 26-year-old is speaking at his gym in West Finchley, north London, sat in a chair in the middle of one of two rings. The knuckles on Dubois’s right hand are calloused, and he occasionally thuds them into the palm of his left hand to accentuate a point. His words are intermittently interrupted by the screech of a whistle, signalling the start and end of sparring rounds in the next ring over.

“Many things make up a heavy hitter, starting from who your parents are,” explains Dubois, aptly nicknamed “Dynamite”, delving into the source of so much of his success so far. “My dad wanted to be a boxer, he was serious about it, he had a plan and gave the vision to me. He’d been preparing me from a young age, since I was about seven.” Dubois’s father also prepared Daniel’s younger sister Caroline, who won Olympic gold before turning pro. “Then it takes really, really, really hard work – total discipline. I did certain training that helped with the power I have today; it is [partly natural], but you have to sharpen your tools.”

Dubois (left) stopped Jarrell Miller in the final seconds of their back-and-forth bout (Getty Images)
Dubois (left) stopped Jarrell Miller in the final seconds of their back-and-forth bout (Getty Images)

Those tools were put to devastating effect in December, as Dubois faced a must-win test against known drug cheat Jarrell Miller in Saudi Arabia. It was a fluid war, with both heavyweights building and losing momentum throughout, but Dubois eventually pulled ahead before making the judges redundant with eight seconds left. With Miller cowering against the ropes, Dubois finally forced the stoppage that had looked so elusive.

“It was just something I had to come through,” Dubois reflects, hinting at the stakes that followed his title-fight loss to Oleksandr Usyk last August. “It was a gut check for both of us, a crossroads fight. I needed to win that, and to come through with flying colours... it was just great to show I have that power all through the fight. Believing in myself, that’s all it’s about.”

Dubois says he even accepted a fight with Deontay Wilder before Miller was confirmed as his opponent – “I think they refused the fight, they said ‘no’, but then I don’t know what happened” – as he looked to bounce back from his defeat by Usyk. On that night in Poland, Dubois thought he had beaten the unified champion (now undisputed) with a body shot, only to see it ruled a low blow. Usyk recovered and, several rounds later, was able to stop Dubois.

Dubois in action against Oleksandr Usyk in Poland last August (Getty Images)
Dubois in action against Oleksandr Usyk in Poland last August (Getty Images)

“I don’t know, man,” Dubois starts, “I felt like it was unfair, a sort of robbery. They took the win away from me. It was like I had two fights in one night. I won the first fight; you guys saw what happened: I landed a shot, he went down... I don’t want to go into that too much. For me that’s in the past, and I’m a man of the future.”

The future is now, and it presents a challenge in the form of Filip Hrgovic. Dubois will box the unbeaten Croatian in Riyadh, as part of the Matchroom vs Queensberry card. Promoter Eddie Hearn has chosen Hrgovic as one of his five fighters, while Dubois is among Frank Warren’s representatives.

“Without Frank, none of this would be happening,” Dubois says of his career more widely. “He keeps giving me these big opportunities and big moments. Massive thanks to Frank, he’s an absolute legend. He’s really involved in it all. All praise to him.” And what of Hrgovic? “I’ve got to put it on him, man, take it away from him. I’ve got to hurt him to the body, to the head, take him apart. I need to use these, go to work with these,” he says, raising those calloused fists.

Dubois is looking to take another step towards a world title by beating Filip Hrgovic (Andrew Cuthbert)
Dubois is looking to take another step towards a world title by beating Filip Hrgovic (Andrew Cuthbert)
Dubois spoke to The Independent at his gym in West Finchley in May (Andrew Cuthbert)
Dubois spoke to The Independent at his gym in West Finchley in May (Andrew Cuthbert)

The winner of Dubois’s collision with Hrgovic is intended to box Anthony Joshua next, headlining a Saudi-staged card at Wembley Stadium in September. It is a fight that has been on Dubois’s radar for some time – a clash of British behemoths. It could also be for the IBF heavyweight title, if Usyk is stripped of it as expected.

“One step at a time, but that’s definitely on the horizon, big fights like that,” Dubois says. “You can’t not take notice, that’s a massive opportunity for me. That’s like Frank Bruno vs Lennox Lewis, if me and ‘AJ’ fight. I think about it, wondering when I’m gonna get there and get that big break, but slowly and surely you get there with the right people behind you. My dad, my brother, my sister, Frank... we’re a small team, but we’re powerful.”

It is indeed a small but powerful team, driving a man to whom only one of those adjectives applies. And that man plans to show Hrgovic just how powerful he is on Saturday.

Daniel Dubois is managed by Luke Micallef Trigona of Keystone Law.

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