When Daniel Dubois looks across the ring in Wroclaw on Saturday, he would do well to focus on the shark-eyed gaze glaring through him and not the sounds coming from the legions of Ukrainians in the stands – those baying for his systematic dismantling.
Because if Oleksandr Usyk specialises in anything, it is systematic dismantling. That is what his travelling fans will be hoping to see when they cross the border from their war-torn homeland to Poland, where their idol defends his gold and his country’s honour this weekend.
That is a lot of motivation in the corner of Usyk – the unbeaten southpaw, the unified world heavyweight champion, the Olympic gold medalist, and the only undisputed cruiserweight title holder of his era. And if that motivation were not enough, Usyk will enter the Tarczynski Arena fueled by residual frustration from his failed fight with Tyson Fury.
In an ideal world, Usyk, now closer to 37 than 36, would have fought the WBC champion three months ago; an undisputed king would have been crowned and a rematch might have even been scheduled by now. Instead, Fury is two months out from a bizarre bout with ex-UFC champion Francis Ngannou, who is making his professional boxing debut and is not eligible to win the Briton’s WBC belt; and Usyk is on the cusp of a defence against mandatory challenger Dubois.
Then again, in an ideal world, Usyk’s country would not be under continued attacks from Russia. That might at least mean that the champion would be staging this defence against Dubois in Ukraine, rather than in Poland. Reality dictates, however, that Usyk’s fans will journey to Wroclaw in search of some brief escapism. Usyk, who volunteered on the frontline in Ukraine last year, knows the responsibility and opportunity he possesses this weekend. He was aware of it when he fought Anthony Joshua – for the second time – last summer, and that was apparent when he collapsed to his knees after securing victory, wrapped in a Ukrainian flag and soaked in tears and sweat.
Such emotions will only be heightened on Saturday, in front of the fans who had to watch from a distance when Usyk outpointed Joshua in August. On Saturday, Usyk will again stand across from a British heavyweight, one with formidable power but whose technical abilities and speed do not, in all honesty, measure up to the former cruiserweight’s.
The enigmatic Usyk remains a unicorn at heavyweight, balletic in movement but brutal in his sheer efficiency of output. Then there are the angles he creates, which risk leaving Dubois stupefied like a primary school student in a university geometry class. Believe it or not, that is not actually meant as an indictment of Dubois, who has more than the puncher’s chance that some have suggested; however, the truth is that the 25-year-old has not fought an opponent close to Usyk’s calibre, let alone one with this unique of a skillset.
Dubois has achieved 18 of his 19 pro wins via knockout, while his sole defeat came in 2020, at the hands of Joe Joyce – hands which battered Dubois’s eye socket to the point of fracture. Dubois hit the canvas that night and did the same in his last fight – three times in fact, all in the first round. On that occasion, against Kevin Lerena in December, it was Dubois’s knee that betrayed him, but the Briton managed to fight through the injury to stop his opponent in Round 3. Fighting unsteadily on one leg, Dubois somehow conjured the power to drop Lerena with a right cross, before finishing him with a barrage of hooks and uppercuts against the ropes.
The positive to be taken from that outing is that a healthy Dubois wields even greater power; the question, though, is whether Dubois will stay healthy across 12 rounds with Usyk, who looks well poised to exploit the younger fighter’s vulnerabilities.
When the pair came face to face at a pre-fight press conference in July, Dubois vowed to unleash “hell”. Usyk, meanwhile, recited a poem and a rap. That might have foreshadowed the dynamic of this main event rather well: Dubois, as his coach Don Charles has admitted, must make this a chaotic affair. In contrast, Usyk will look to employ his usual artistry to undo his challenger and put Dubois himself through hell.
Agonised by the grave matter of war in his homeland and the more trivial factor of frustration with Fury, Usyk will be riled up in Wroclaw. If any fighter can master that emotion and harness it wisely, it is Usyk.