Early Professional Nerves Give Way to Burning World Title Ambition for Caroline Dubois.
“I want to test myself against the best. To be the best, you have to beat the best. That's what I want. I want a world title soon,” Caroline Dubois calmly tells me towards the end of our conversation. The 21-year-old lightweight made her professional debut in February and has stayed busy – moving to 4-0 with three of those wins coming inside the distance. Dubois' latest victory came on October 15 on the all-female Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall card at London's O2 Arena. The fluid-moving southpaw really impressed in stopping Milena Koleva courtesy of a beautifully placed fifth-round body shot. Dubois, boxing on a massive card in her home city, displayed confidence mixed with a desire to showcase her speed and power against her experienced opponent.
Winding the clock back to September last year, Dubois had returned from the Tokyo Olympics disappointed at having failed to win a medal. Her goal was to turn professional, but she admitted to having some reservations. “To be honest, at first, I wasn't scared, but I was nervous about turning pro,” Caroline told NYFights as the interview got underway, “I had never boxed without a head guard on. With the small gloves in the pros, you see people getting seriously hurt. I was a bit nervous as to how I would adapt to the rounds and the small gloves. I feel I've adapted well. There's still learning to do. There's going to be hard fights down the line, but now it's more a case of looking forward to those challenges.”
Dubois spoke with composure and quiet confidence as I inquired about her early experiences within boxing's paid ranks. The logical place to begin was by asking her to recall her memories of October 15. “It was crazy; I'd been watching some of these girls box since I was 11 years old,” Dubois began. “Claressa Shields, Savannah Marshall at the 2012 Olympics. I watched Mikaela Mayer at the 2016 Olympics. I've watched Alycia Baumgardner fight Terri Harper and Christina Linardatou. I've seen these girls box before, and I've always been a fan. Now I'm amongst them, it's just a crazy transformation, and I was so thankful to be given that opportunity. When Ben (Shalom, founder of Boxxer) said there was a card coming up, all female, I said, ‘you've got to get me on that card,' and he did.”
A consideration for any elite amateur moving into professional boxing is which promoter they want to sign with. I was interested to learn what made Dubois sign with Boxxer. “I think they are a bit different from everyone else because they are new and upcoming. They want the boxers. They need the boxers. It's not like more established companies where you've got 101 other boxers. They want you, and you can feel that.”
Currently, Boxxer has a broadcasting deal with Sky Sports in the UK. By extension, this means that most of their cards are also shown on ESPN+ in America due to the agreement between the two media giants. Certainly, in terms of the UK, boxing on Sky is still the best way to become known and grow a fanbase. It may be a subscription channel, but free-to-air TV no longer shows boxing, and Sky's 24-hour rolling sports news channel ensures that their fighters and events are known about. Out of all the options, it seems to me like Dubois made a good choice.
“The moment I walked in the door at Sky Studios, they were so enthusiastic about me. I was coming off a loss at the Olympics. I was devastated. I felt confused, and I was upset. I was wondering why these people wanted to sign me so badly,” Dubois continued when I asked her to expand on meeting the Boxxer/Sky decision-makers. “They saw something in me, something that I knew I had. Their enthusiasm towards me was what gave me the final push to get over my Olympic disappointment and turn professional. Feeling wanted as a fighter is 100 percent what is needed.”
It sounds like the newly turned pro and new promotional entity are a good match for one another. There was an excitement in Dubois' voice as we continued discussing this theme for a short while. “Boxing is forever changing. Imagine if 50 years ago, you said an all-female card would draw two million viewers around the world, people would have laughed in your face. But now we are here and part of this change. I want to be part of the forefront of Boxxer, to be part of their movement. There's constantly going to be change in boxing and being part of that change is how you keep up.”
Another decision that needs to be made for a newly turned professional is which trainer to work with. Caroline Dubois decided to seek out the services of one of the best boxing trainers in the UK, Shane McGuigan. “He's very good,” Dubois said when I asked how working with McGuigan has been so far. “He wasn't the first pro coach I went to. Before I went to the Olympics, I knew I probably would turn pro, so I was looking at a few coaches. I went around a bit training with some of them, and Shane was one of them. I think I had three or four sessions with him before the Olympics, and I was saying, ‘this is the guy I want to train me.' Already he was showing me things I didn't know. He was showing me how to throw certain punches, teaching me things I wasn't even thinking about and that no one else had ever told me about. That is exactly what you need in a coach.”
With promotional and training bases well covered, Dubois also has family she can turn to for support within boxing should she choose to do so. Her older brother Daniel has been a professional since 2017 and is the current WBA regular heavyweight champion. Is it all boxing chat between the siblings? “We try to keep a nice balance, Ying and Yang,” Caroline informed me. “We do talk boxing, especially when there is a big fight on – we like to sit down and talk about how the fights are going as we are watching. We also discuss fights we'd like to see happen. I'll ask Daniel about who he wants to fight – it's such an interesting scene at the top of men's heavyweight boxing right now – so I always like to ask who he sees himself fighting in the next couple of years and what his goals are. We talk about these things and, of course, everything else in-between.”
Having boxed in February, March, July, and October, I was curious to know if that quartet of bouts would be it for the year for Dubois or if she would like one more test before the calendar flips to 2023. “I would definitely love one more fight. I hope for another one in December, but nothing's guaranteed at the moment. We need to wait and see,” the fighter told NYFights.
With female boxing featuring prominently on cards all over the world this year, there have been discussions around women only fighting two-minute rounds. Should they fight three-minute sessions the same as their male counterparts? “Coming from the amateurs, I was doing three-minute rounds. I find that quite funny because, as a 17-year-old, I was doing longer rounds than fully mature professional women fighters. That's kind of crazy,” Caroline said when I asked for her opinion on this topic.
“It was never a problem doing the three-minute rounds – the only thing is you have to do more running and train in a different way,” Dubois continued informatively. “You box differently during three-minute rounds. With three-minute rounds, the pace would go down. The punch output would probably go down. You don't see men throwing a million punches from the first round to the last. It's not possible. I'd be all for boxing three-minute rounds in the pros, but at the moment, there are so many obstacles stopping it from happening. Right now, I'm happy with either way. At the moment, everyone is enjoying female boxing, so the main thing is that continues.”
And that brings us back to the start. The opening quote was Caroline's response to me asking if she was still aiming to win a world title before the end of 2023, something I had heard her mention in a different interview. You wouldn't know it from her calm exterior, but the young fighter is determined to mix it up with some of the fighters she has looked up to for so long. “I'm seeing the way female boxing is right now. There are so many big fights I'm interested in. The only problem is most of the established girls are in their thirties,” she elaborated. “I just want to catch up to these girls and be amongst them, fighting against them. I want my name next to theirs in big fights.”
When I mentioned that, in my opinion, Mikaela Mayer looked like the cut to super-featherweight took too much out of her in her October London outing, Dubois' eyes lit up. “That would be amazing; that would be class,” she stated at the prospect of someone she regards as a modern great joining her in the lightweight division.
“As I said, I've been watching Mayer since 2016, and it would be cool to fight her. Again, to be the best, you have to fight the best, and I want to be known as one of the best and be involved in big fights. I know Katie Taylor has all the belts at lightweight, but I'd happily fight off against Mayer for a shot at those belts.”
Before ending the interview, I wanted to ask Caroline about her nickname, “Sweet Caroline.” A fun acknowledgment of the song or a tip of the cap to fighters of bygone eras who used the sweetness theme? “To be honest, I love watching Sugar Ray Leonard. He inspired me, and his name has something sweet to it. It's not a vicious name – it matches his personality. Obviously, because of the song title, it carries a bit of a double meaning, but hopefully, people can see the funny side of that.”
While her nickname may be a small talking point, the main focus should be on Caroline Dubois' next twelve months in the ring. She's set herself a tough deadline when it comes to placing a world title around her waist, but with her positive attitude, she might just make it happen.
In a thriving female boxing scene, if you aren't already, make sure you start paying attention to Caroline Dubois. Her ambition and willingness to welcome difficult challenges suggest it's not going to be dull watching “Sweet Caroline” in 2023.