Just Because: A week of rematches, scheduled and demanded, hard to sell with a straight face

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AS we reach the midpoint of this week, we find ourselves stuck between a fight that should never have happened which may now lead to another that definitely shouldn’t happen and a fight that nobody asked to see again but will, despite this, take place on Saturday (September 2) in Manchester.

The first of these two fights, Oleksandr Usyk vs. Daniel Dubois, was the result of the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) reckless decision to rank Dubois high in their ratings despite him having never recorded a win of note as a professional. This then led to him bagging a WBA “Regular” title, more a poisoned chalice than a belt, and winding up challenging Usyk, a man far too good for him, in Poland last Saturday (August 26).

That fight – surprise, surprise – turned out to be every bit as one-sided as most expected, only, to Dubois’ relief, a flashpoint in round five, the round in which he dropped Usyk with a low blow, has added a dimension to it all it would have otherwise lacked. Chiefly, by whacking Usyk on his beltline, or perhaps just below it, Dubois introduced some controversy to the fight and now, as a consequence, is publicly campaigning for a rematch. Or, for accuracy’s sake, Dubois’ promoter, Frank Warren, is publicly campaigning for a rematch, aware that should he get one for his man he will have pulled a small victory from the jaws of defeat and, better yet, get paid twice over.

“If the rules were followed to the letter,” Warren wrote on his website today (August 30), “we would now have a new unified heavyweight world champion.

“Instead, the excellent current champion remains on his throne, with his game challenger left to lick his wounds.

“However, it won’t be quite as straightforward as that because we intend to throw our weight behind our man Daniel Dubois to seek justice over the incident in the pivotal fifth round when Oleksandr Usyk was bludgeoned to the canvas and would have been out for the count, had there been one.”

The title of this post, for the record, was “Justice for Daniel”, which is every bit as awkward to write as it presumably is to say. It is far easier, however, to write it and maintain a straight face than it is to try saying it with one, which maybe explains the thinking behind the letter.

“It really is largely irrelevant whether Daniel was being outgunned, outpointed or out-skilled by the ring-smart two-weight world champion,” Warren went on. “That was to be expected. We knew that and outfoxing him wasn’t part of the grand plan.

“The strategy devised involved targeting the one weakness identified in the great Ukrainian: he is a bit suspect when it comes to the body.

“Daniel and his team knew that landing on the money was key to achieving an against-all-odds triumph. And that is exactly what he did inside the first 30 seconds or so of the fifth round.

“Usyk himself was clearly fearful of this tactic reaping rewards and he, successfully you could say, planted an early narrative in the mind of referee Luis Pabon by flinching several times and gesturing south of the border in the opening stages.

“This resulted in an easy assumption when the bullseye was landed that the blow was low.

“However, it was clearly outlined in the rules meeting beforehand that such a shot was indeed legitimate, meaning Daniel has been denied his moment of glory.”

Oleksandr Usyk finds himself on his knees; a familiar position (Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)

Speaking of narratives, the twisting of one in the aftermath of a fight is nothing new, nor a skill particularly difficult. It doesn’t take much for one to repeat a point often enough for it to start to disfigure what actually went on, particularly when tools like social media offer the ideal garden in which to plant seeds and watch ideas, regardless of how far-fetched they may appear, start to grow.

Now, that’s not to say Usyk isn’t vulnerable to the body, nor is to say Dubois wasn’t targeting that area of the Ukrainian’s body while he was still in the fight and firing. However, what must also be highlighted is the fact that at no stage did Dubois seem to have weakened Usyk to the body and that the reaction to The Moment in round five was in keeping, on the part of both, with the reaction we would usually see when one boxer punches the other low. In short, Usyk dropped immediately to the canvas, in a way different than he would have done had the shot landed on his body, and Dubois, the man who had supposedly landed a life-changing shot, simply shrugged, retreated to a neutral corner, and waited for his downed opponent to climb to his feet again. Crucially, at no point did Dubois ever protest to the referee or even raise the issue – that of this punch being legal – with his corner team, all of whom were to suddenly discover enlightenment when the fight was over and they had either consulted TV monitors or opened Twitter on their phones.

“People now say Usyk would have got up if a count had commenced, but how they can be so sure of this is beyond me,” Warren continued. “He was doubled up and shaking like a leaf, such was the ferocity of the strike.

“There is little value in repeating all the technical details here because people will, or have, made up their own minds having viewed some clever imagery or listened to some of the usual suspects with their utterly predictable agenda-driven rhetoric.

“We have had a lot of support on this from a number of very influential and, more importantly, independent people and we are currently in the process of putting together a compelling case to put forward to the WBA.

“The least Daniel should receive is an ordered rematch. More appropriate would be the fight being declared a no-contest.”

In truth, nobody, not even Dubois, needs to experience more rounds in the ring with Oleksandr Usyk anytime soon. Moreover, Frank Warren, maybe the most experienced of all men in British boxing right now, will know enough to know that this open letter of his, combined with a protest and a petition and a brief rallying of likeminded individuals on social media, will do little for Dubois’ chances of getting either a rematch or the result overturned. If anything, Dubois, given the way in which he was manoeuvred to his first title shot, should be counting his blessings and, rather than feeling hard done by, considering himself somewhat fortunate to have secured an opportunity many other heavyweight contenders – better qualified ones – still futilely chase.

Don Charles with Daniel Dubois (Andrzej Iwanczuk/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The other rematch in the headlines this week features Liam Smith and Chris Eubank Jnr, neither of whom seem entirely convinced or content despite the conclusive nature of their first encounter in January. That, too, like Usyk vs. Dubois, was a fight finished in empathic style, yet still contained within it a single moment – a single blow, in fact – which left the door open to both conspiracy theorists and a rematch few, if just looking at the result on paper, would have thought possible.

Yet here we are: it’s happening. Thanks to Smith’s fourth-round barrage, which both ended the fight and included a stray elbow, we have somehow managed to turn a grandstand finish into something controversial; something awash with asterisks.

Smith, of course, says the elbow in question had less to do with Eubank Jnr’s inability to remain upright than the hooks and uppercuts he also landed, yet Eubank Jnr, as is his right, suggests he was comfortable under fire until Smith’s elbow clipped him and scrambled his senses. Whether that happens to be true or not, only he will ultimately know, but it is enough to introduce uncertainty to what appeared, at first, a certain result and it is enough, moreover, to tee up a rematch that further eats into the short amount of time these two middleweights have left in the sport.

That said, it should still be a good fight, this rematch, and it clearly carries an intrigue and competitive element Usyk vs. Dubois II, for example, can never possess. Also, such is Eubank Jnr’s mystique, which has followed him and to some degree fuelled him through much of his pro career, one can never truly write him off or believe he has reached the end until we see it with our own eyes. Here, for instance, against Liam Smith, the matter of the stray elbow will be enough to have some of his followers still believe, which, in turn, means it is the job of Smith, again, to remove not only all doubt but also Chris Eubank Jnr from the sport. Nothing less will do, it seems. For so strong is the Eubank brand, and so great is his pulling power and ability to manipulate the truth, even a fourth-round stoppage loss, the like of which would normally lead to a rebuild rather than a rematch, failed to stop the Brighton man getting what he wanted at a time when everyone else, including Liam Smith, was raising a hand and asking, “What’s the point?”

Liam Smith floors Chris Eubank Jnr in Manchester on January 21 (Lawrence Lustig)