Boxing is a sport of character.
At its most fundamental, it’s fight or flight.
Through history, we measure a man’s will. We call him a warrior if he gives us his all and a coward or a quitter if we get anything less when the going gets tough.
The going got tough for Daniel Dubois on Saturday in London. He lost for the first time but it was not merely losing that caused a groundswell of debate or opinion but the manner in which he lost.
Many saw his fight with Joe Joyce as close as it wore on. Plenty had Joyce ahead but two judges favoured Dubois and one, John Latham, had ridiculously only given Joyce a couple of rounds.
That’s a column for another day, though let it be noted it’s one of the year’s very worst scorecards in another year marred by many extraordinary ones.
But when Dubois took yet another swift, hard jab onto his seriously swollen left eye he indicated that he was hurt – another no-no in this ridiculously ultra-machismo world – and he surrendered to one knee.
That in itself is not where many drew the line. It came after he’d listened to Ian John-Lewis’s 10 count and then decided to rise. That was when the scorn was poured over his character.
He was set alight on social media: aged 23, having met fire with fire in his first really arduous professional test and many branded him a ‘quitter’.
I think he made a choice but I’d never call him a quitter.
We want our boxers to make sacrifices, no matter the cost.
‘Real’ fighters have lost their lives giving it their all.
It’s seen to be better to have too much heart than too little, but who picks up the pieces when it goes very wrong because the sport certainly doesn’t.
Which union would Dubois go to for his medical bills to pay for his fractured orbital bone and the nerve damage around his left eye?
Which union would look after him if he had to retire, at just 23?
How would those call him a quitter help him through life if he was left with one eye?
This isn’t to blow things out of proportion, far from it. Labelling a fighter a quitter needs to be addressed.
Anthony Ogogo, former Olympic bronze medalist, had to retire after suffering a multitude of eye injuries. Lightweight world title challenger John Murray lives blind in one eye.
In fact, too many fighters have suffered detached retinas (Frank Bruno, Jeff Chandler...) and been at risk for the rest of their days.
And Dubois is a central cog of a loving family. How would his younger siblings feel if he’d carried on but his dream was over? How would his father feel if he’d fought until there was permanent eye damage?
We, the critics, are not the ones who pick up the pieces or live with the consequences for wanting our fighters to leave every drop of themselves in the prize ring.
Yet we, the fans, scream the loudest and call people out for doing things that we ourselves would never do.
In boxing you find exceptional people who have done exceptional things.
Fighters have fought through shut eyes, with dislocated shoulders, jaws broken and swinging agape and they are idolised for it but it would take a real jerk to define Roberto Duran’s career with No Mas because it scarcely deserves an asterisks in any humane society.
What other sport or line of work is there, aside from on the front line of the military, would we expect people to keep working when staring down life changing injuries?
What kind of people are we to call someone out for getting out of the line of fire when they can’t see the fire they have to walk to to be in with a chance of turning a fight around.
Daniel Dubois doesn’t deserve the label too many people have bestowed on him.
Perhaps the way he feels about it now will stiffen his resolve in the future. Maybe he hates himself for it today.
Or maybe he will get his injuries treated, start a rebuild and come again and put it down to experience.
He might not be the next Liston or Tyson or Louis or Lewis but he doesn’t have to be. He’s on his own journey and it’s a journey that will take him far further than where he was in Church House in Westminster last night if he wants it to.
He deserves no label nor any criticism. He did what fighters do. He fought and he lost. That’s sport. That’s the game or the business, whatever you prefer to call it.
He will fight again and he will likely win and lose again but reserve judgement with the sweeping character assassinations and the ‘quitter’ cries because not only does he not deserve them but when a young, inexperienced fighter is half blind, taking stick and preserves himself for his future, his family and his livelihood sometimes making the decision not to fight in is the hardest decision any boxer will ever have to make.