Unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine had too much to fight for on Saturday to let a victory get away from him.
Recovering from a knockdown ruled a low blow in the fifth round, Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) marshaled his courage and experience to dispatch his WBA mandatory challenger, Daniel Dubois of London (19-2, 18 KOs) with a series of hard right hooks, scoring a ninth-round TKO win.
Usyk also defended his IBF, IBO, and WBO titles with his first knockout victory as a heavyweight in five fights.
WHAT A SHOT TO END THE NIGHT IN POLAND 💥 pic.twitter.com/lR7S5eirmh
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) August 26, 2023
After Usyk avoids disaster with the stoppage, the champion approached Dubois’ corner and encouraged the 25-year-old to keep chasing his dreams. “It's not bad. It's boxing. It’s not ballet. It’s not dancing. Daniel, you’re young. You can dream. Man – dude. Relax, man, it's boxing. It’s tough sport, brother.”
Usyk and his team enjoyed a victory dance in the ring, including his best friend Vasiliy Lomachenko.
“I feel good. I’m grateful for my country and the Ukrainian army,” Usyk said of his victory. No pressure, even when the president of your country issues a message of support.
Despite the defeat, Dubois exceeded expectations, and he has numerous supporters who believe his knockdown punch was legal.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) August 26, 2023
Dubois Decoding The Usyk Defense
Dubois’ best opportunity to compete with Usyk was to come out with guns blazing. It didn’t happen. Usyk controlled the pace of the fight with footwork and feints to avoid any firepower coming from Dubois.
In the second round, Usyk launched straight left hands over the Dubois jab, catching Dubois and quickly evading anything coming back from Dubois. Dubois’ corner could be heard over the crowd yelling, “Back him up, back him up!”
Dubois started having more success aiming for critical mass on Usyk, forgetting about headshots and punching to the body in round three.
Usyk in turn had success with a southpaw jab, catching Dubois coming in and pushing Dubois back.
Fifth Round Fireworks: Clean Shot or Low Blow?
The fight took a dramatic sudden turn in round five. After struggling through the first four rounds, Dubois caught Usyk with a shocking body shot on the beltline, dropping the champion to the canvas. It was ruled a low blog by referee Luis Pabon of Puerto Rico.
Pabon gave him five minutes, telling Usyk, “Take your time.” Usyk remained on the canvas for at least two minutes, at times shaking his head. He gingerly took a few steps, still compromised.
Dubois paced like a predator in the neutral corner, ready to run toward its prey. Usyk signaled he was ready. Pabon again encouraged Usyk to take his time, but Usyk said, “I’m ready.” Pabon gave Usyk one more minute, holding up the action for the full five minutes.
Pabon warned Dubois, “Look at me – clean fight, OK?”
Dubois showed new energy and enthusiasm to engage, hoping to capitalize on the shot. Usyk kept his right hand in Dubois’ face, disguising follow-ups from the left, stepping to Dubois. The crowd cheered Usyk on. Both men threw a shot at each other after the fifth-round bell. It was game on.
Had it been ruled a legal punch, Dubois would be taking his place among the greatest upsets in the heavyweight division.
Asked later whether he felt Dubois’ power, Usyk denied it. “No, only my power.”
Road to Recovery
In the sixth round, Usyk appeared to recover and increased his offensive output to back Dubois up where his power was least effective. Dubois continued to focus on landing to Usyk’s body. As Usyk regained his strength, he increased his work rate, which served as an excellent defensive strategy to fend off any Dubois power shots.
By round eight, Usyk had regained control of the fight narrative despite the big scare in the fifth. Dubois landed several excellent right hands to Usyk’s head, but Usyk took the shots well.
At the end of the eighth, Usyk dropped Dubois at the bell with a combination starting with a double left jab, followed by a right hook and uppercut. These were ruled legal by Pabon.
Now Usyk saw his chance to close the show for the elated Ukrainian fans in the arena. In the opening minute of the ninth round, Usyk closed in with a check right hook to the head, followed by another. The door was open for Usyk.
Since it was effective, Usyk repeated the check right hook, and this one hit the bullseye, immediately dropping Dubois to a knee. He struggled to his feet to beat the count, but referee Pabon waved the fight off at 48 seconds for a ninth-round TKO victory.
Does Usyk's Future Include Fury?
After his escape from disaster, Usyk got the expected question about facing the one opponent with the belt he needs to become the undisputed heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury.
“I'm ready tomorrow! I'm ready, next fight. I'm ready next fight for Tyson Fury.” Usyk said he’d like to see his children and family and home and admitted to being a little bit tired.
Usyk is likely to get a hero’s welcome when he returns to his country, where he’ll wait to see what transpired between Fury and former MMA heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia on October 28. Assuming Fury wins, he may still avoid Usyk.
The consolation fight would be another mandatory defense, possibly against Filip Hrgovic, who is the IBF challenger and next in line. It’s not a terrible fight, but it’s not a unification fight.