Joe Joyce landed a big upset and took a huge step towards a world heavyweight title shot by stopping Daniel Dubois in a captivating contest in London.
Joyce, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist, used his jab expertly to build telling damage over Dubois’ eye.
Dubois landed his own fine work but was distressed by his eye between rounds.
And with the bout in the balance, a simple jab from Joyce prompted Dubois to pause before taking a knee in round 10 when he failed to beat the count.
‘I couldn’t see’
The surreal finish at Westminster’s Church House underlined the discomfort Dubois had dealt with for around half the fight and, without question, Joyce’s discipline, accuracy and durability in soaking up attacks deserves immense praise.
Dubois – who was kneeling on the canvas looking at his corner when the end came – told BT Sport: “He caught me with a good jab – I couldn’t see out of the eye. It just happens. I’ve been hit harder, but it was where I was positioned and he hit me on the eye.”
But former world champion Carl Frampton and ex-British champion Matt Macklin said 23-year-old Dubois “quit”.
There can be no doubt his body language between rounds was a stark contrast to that seen when he breezed through his first 15 professional contests and his injury and first career defeat are testament to Joyce’s work.
The 35-year-old walks away with the British, Commonwealth and European titles but in truth, this was a high-risk ‘gateway’ fight to be taken seriously at world level.
“I’m ready for Oleksandr Usyk”, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist said.
“Daniel has got some power but I’ve felt power like that before. With my experience I’ve learnt to ride them.”
‘You’re in the fight game now’
Blessed with an engine that defies his 6ft 6in frame and the kind of agility that saw him perform acrobatics in the ring after his win, Joyce brings an obscure mix to division’s top table.
The speed of his shots looks limited on the eye but there can be no question his punches carry enough weight to wear rivals down blow by blow.
Here, he backed and trusted his jab, flicking it constantly to fend off the heavy attacks Dubois is known for. When Dubois did land hard – three right hands in round two and a left hook in the third – Joyce stood when past opponents crumpled.
“This is the fight game now, you’re in it,” Dubois was warned by his corner after the fifth.
He needed to show grit we had not seen from him before and duly found a sweetly timed right hand in the seventh. The beaten man was ahead on two of the three scorecards when the damage to his eye prompted his refusal to go on.
Around 20,000 fans would have watched the pair scrap out a defining moment in their careers had the contest not been postponed three times during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is Joyce who can look forward to raucous nights, bigger pay days and potential world glory.
Dubois will need to heal and come again.
‘An underdog and a mountain to climb’ – analysis
BBC Sport boxing correspondent Mike Costello:
The year of the heavyweight underdog. Tyson Fury, Alexander Povetkin and Joe Joyce have all started second-favourite in their big fights and left the ring the winner.
Going into the fight, it was felt that the jab of Dubois would be key and Joyce’s lack of head movement an issue. In the event, the reverse was true. Dubois ate the left jab from the start and seemed incapable of avoiding the trouble which eventually caused his left eye to close.
We’ve seen so often in the past how a heavyweight’s power carries less pop as he moves up in class – and Dubois’ aura of fear has waned. And because of the manner of the finish, future opponents will be encouraged by his readiness to take a knee. At 23, he has scope to improve but he now has a psychological mountain to climb.
As for Joyce, his predictability is likely to be exploited by the likes of Fury and Joshua but his work rate and resilience will make him competitive. At the highest level, though, he needs more.