Learning the ropes: Daniel Dubois interview

Paul Zanon
20/11/2017 9:42am

At just 20, Daniel Dubois still has some growing to do, physically and fistically, but he’s getting there. Paul Zanon watched trainer Martin Bowers put the heavyweight prospect through his paces at the Peacock Gym...

Thud! That’s what a wet 50lbs sack of sand would sound like when hitting a wall at speed. It is also what Daniel Dubois’ right hand to the body sounds like when it lands on his 240lbs sparring partner. “Slow it down. Place your shots, but be fluid.” That’s the sound of Martin Bowers’ voice at the Peacock Gym in Canning Town, east London. Bowers has been Dubois’ trainer and manager since he turned pro.

With one minute of the fourth round of sparring remaining, Bowers shared the coaching philosophy for his new charge. “Everything we talk about and go over in sparring, he corrects. Shoulder movement, head movement, height adjustment, slipping back, everything. If he doesn’t do it every time, eight out of 10 times he will, which is phenomenal. He’s an incredible student of the game. And he listens.”

As the buzzer indicated the end of the round, Dubois walked back to the corner for a quick sip of water and Bowers’ instructions: “Better head movement. Make him think.” As the buzzer sounded again, Dubois stepped to the centre of the ring to face his second and slightly taller sparring partner.

“Away we go. Nice and sensible. It’s all about the feet now,” Bowers instructed. As Bowers explained to Boxing Monthly: “We’re working the feet and target area. Instead of coming on square, we’re giving [the sparmate] no target to hit. We’re not chasing him but rather cutting off the ring.”

The instruction: “Stab, shield, stab, shield” after a wild uppercut reminded the heavyweight prospect of his defensive duties.

After the two-hour training session, Dubois talked to BM about his journey as a fighter.
The 20-year-old from Greenwich, south-east London, is softly spoken. Outside of a boxing gym, there’s nothing in his demeanour that points towards him being a boxer.

However, Dubois said that a lawyer friend of his father’s once brought up the name of Sylvia Dubois, a former American slave who was said to have been prodigiously strong and who fought with men and women, as possibly a long-gone distant relative.

Dubois thus likes to feel that fighting instincts are part of his heritage, and boxing is something of a family affair. “There are 11 of us and three box,” Dubois said. “Prince [his 12 year-old-brother, named after Naseem Hamed] recently lost in the national ABA [junior] finals, but he’ll come again. Then there’s my sister, Caroline, who’s 16 and has won the ABAs twice as well as European gold last year. Her target is Olympic gold in Tokyo 2020.”

Having won an impressive collection of trophies himself, including two junior ABA titles, two junior international titles and gold at the GB championships in December 2016, was Dubois not tempted to try to make it a family double in Japan?

“Three years is a long way away,” he said. “I could be a world champion by then. That’s my goal. That’s why I decided to go for it [turn professional]. I’d done everything I needed to do as an amateur and sparred with some of the best in the world [Joe Joyce and Frazer Clarke being two of them].”

The one sparring session that generated a great deal of media attention came towards the end of 2016. Dubois shared the ring with Anthony Joshua, already IBF heavyweight champion. “It was just before I turned pro,” Dubois said. “I was in the GB squad at the time. It was a good experience for both of us. It was full-on sparring.
“Looking at the way he operated, his skill, his athleticism, his hard work, it all made sense why he was winning his fights. To be around him certainly taught me a lot.”

The sparring session was abruptly cut short after a Dubois punch put Joshua down. Unwilling to share whether Joshua was knocked down or knocked out, Dubois pointed with his finger to the area of impact and said: “It was a left hook around the temple area.”

Neither Dubois nor trainer Bowers choose to go into too much detail. “It’s not really something you talk about as a fighter,” Bowers said. “If someone says it or mentions it, that’s fair enough. It [boxers getting dropped in sparring] happens up and down the country. Everyone knows that. It’s more a professional courtesy. We’re talking about this, not bragging. That’s not what we do.

“Anthony Joshua, Frazer Clarke, Joe Joyce, we’re very, very grateful for the opportunity they’ve given Daniel. In heavyweight spars at this level, week in, week out, with timing, speed and power, these things happen. The most important thing is to make sure they don’t happen on the night.

“We did quite a few rounds with Hughie Fury. Very good fighter. Peter [Fury] made us feel very welcome. The Furys are good people and even Tyson came and did a round with Daniel, which was very good. Hopefully we’ll be welcome again up there, as Peter is down here.”

Dubois had warm words for Tyson Fury. “He’s just so natural with what he does and is very skilful,” Dubois said. “After the spar, he also gave me some good encouragement, which was humbling.”

Since turning professional in April, Dubois has won four fights in a row, all by KO. The latest, at London's Copper Box Arena on 8 July, didn't last long, with a heavily outweighed Uruguayan named Mauricio Barragan predictably taken out in the second round.

Promoter Frank Warren had been hoping to get Dubois a shot at the Southern Area title and said at a recent press conference held in Islington for Dubois and light-heavyweight sensation Anthony Yarde: “I also offered the [Dubois] fight to Gary Cornish, who was due to fight for the British title [subsequently cancelled when Sam Sexton pulled out], but he turned it down because he said he was getting married. The money we offered him would have given him a great honeymoon.”

Warren sees a glittering future for Dubois. “I feel he’s one of those fighters that come along very rarely, who can do what they say and deliver the goods,” Warren said. “Question marks are whether he can do 10 rounds. What’s he like on the whiskers?

“He sparred with the world champion, Anthony Joshua, and we all know who got the better of who. I’m not going to embarrass him [Joshua], but he [Dubois] didn’t get off the floor. Anthony’s done a fantastic job in winning the world title but I can see, when he boxes, why Daniel did what he did to him in the gym.

“We now need to make the right moves at the right time. The traditional route is to have 10 guys we expect him to beat and move him up slowly, which means you spend lots of time in the gym learning the trade. Well, we know he can move a bit quicker than that, because he’s already worked with top-quality fighters. He’s one of those exceptional guys who I know we can let the brakes off a bit.”

While a fight for the British title would be a realistic aim, this can’t happen in the short term. “The Board of Control have a regulation that you can’t box for a British title until you’re 21,” Warren said. “So that’s two years down the road.

“You can fight for a world title, but not for the British title. We’re going to be challenging that, asking if they will change that rule, because it should not be determined by age, but by ability.

“Will Daniel beat Gary Cornish or Sam Sexton? You answer that question. It’s not a case of rushing him, it’s about him fighting to his abilities and testing himself out. Yes, he is fighting people, but they can’t take the power. The day will come when he has to box 12 rounds, but I’m confident he’ll have the answer to that.”

Bowers agrees with Warren that Dubois can be moved relatively quickly. “In an ideal world we’d like to think we could have the Southern Area, English and British titles within 12 to 24 months,” Bowers said. “They’re big asks. There are good fighters at that level and Daniel has to go and beat them. That’s where we’d like to be.

“In terms of how he’d cope over 12 rounds, like all fights it would depend on the pace, the pressure and the person he’s fighting. From what I’ve seen so far, I think he’s very well equipped. He has been punched and he will continue to take punches, but he’s taken the shots well. I’ve seen him get hit with good right hands and he just carries on working. He handles it well.

“People are talking about Daniel and world titles, but it’s early days. We’ve got a lot more hurdles to jump before Daniel’s at that level, even though he’s showing great promise at the moment. It’s one fight at a time. We want to fight the best in the world, but when he’s ready.”

There are likely to be significant changes in Dubois during that two-year period, both technically and physically. “He weighs just over 230lbs at the moment,” Bowers said. “He’ll put on a little bit more weight, but it will be natural, not forced. It won’t be a bodybuilder or rugby player’s sort of weight.

“He’s a natural athlete, very good at his running, does all his exercises nice and fluid, and that’s the way we like it. He’s just over 6ft 5 [inches] at the moment and has probably got another inch or two to grow and probably seven to 10 pounds will naturally come with that height. Bear in mind he’s 19 [20 on 6 September].”

For obvious reasons, the comparisons with Joshua keep coming. “I take it as a big compliment,” Dubois said. “He’s a great champion. My intention is certainly to get where he’s at but also conduct myself the way he does, as a gentleman.”

Yet the fighter who has captured Dubois’ imagination isn’t Joshua but Mike Tyson. “I’ve always liked being an exciting fighter,” Dubois said. “That’s what professional boxing is all about for me. Be fast, don’t get hit, and keep winning. I loved Tyson when he became world champion. He showed what those words were all about and what an explosive heavyweight is supposed to be like.”

Dubois is certainly living up to his “Dynamite” moniker. But with less than six complete rounds of professional ring time under his belt at the time of writing*, there is a long way to go.

However, Dubois does allow his thoughts to turn to possible future scenarios. “I appreciate what all our Brit world champions are doing for the sport and I want to do my bit to keep the [world] heavyweight titles in Britain,” he said. “But this is just the start for me.”

*This article originally appeared in the August edition of Boxing Monthly magazine