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Boxing history tells a nuanced tale when it comes to quitting fights | Kevin Mitchell

When Daniel Dubois quit in the 10th round against Joe Joyce, the young heavyweight with the kind face and a good heart was hurled into a pit of shame alongside some of the hardest men in the history of boxing, Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson among them.

The public court of social media – the modern equivalent of Robespierre’s revolutionary tribunal – pronounced that Dubois had committed the fight game’s unforgivable sin. The panel, surprisingly to some, included members of his own tribe: Dillian Whyte, David Haye, Johnny Nelson, Carl Frampton and others familiar with the reality of the ring. He had broken The Code.

Perhaps it made them feel better about themselves to point out his failing. Maybe they were carried away with the collective shock of seeing a sculpted, 17 stone-plus heavyweight giving up on one knee, rather than flat on his back. Clearly he had quit – but he knew more than they did.

For the accused, abandonment by his peers will leave a psychic bruise at least as deep as the physical pain of a broken orbital bone around his eye, with damaged nerves compounding the injury. It might have left him blind; the Sun found a doctor to say his eyeball might have dropped into his sinus.

Dubois could hardly know this in the moment – or be aware of the onslaught that was to follow – but certainly self-preservation led him to the reasonable conclusion that it was not worth the risk to let Joyce keep banging his heavy jab into the purpled swelling that had restricted his vision since at least the third round. In a crowded arena, he might have come to a different conclusion.

For those watching remotely, judgment was instant, and with little room for compassion, because of The Code. Appearances had to be upheld. History had to be observed.

Daniel Dubois suffered a broken orbital bone around his eye in his fight against Joe Joyce
Daniel Dubois suffered a broken orbital bone around his eye in his fight against Joe Joyce. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Yet, if the critics had proper regard for the past, they might not have rushed so quickly to judgment – because history tells a tale more nuanced than that revealed by the noise of the mob. Dubois probably was unaware of it, but three minutes walk from Church House, where he lost on Saturday night, Jack Broughton is buried in Westminster Abbey. On his gravestone is inscribed: “Champion Prizefighter of England, Died Jan 8th 1789, Aged 86 years.”

How Broughton lived to such an age is a mystery lost in time, because in 1750 he engaged in a fight of such ferocity with Jack Slack at his amphitheatre near Oxford Street that it echoes down the centuries. It took the smaller, younger Slack 14 minutes to beat his eyes to a grotesque pulp, at which point Broughton’s patron, the Duke of Cumberland, called out: “What are you about Broughton? You can’t fight. You are beat.” Broughton replied: “I can’t see my man, your Highness. I am blind, but not beat; only let me be placed before my antagonist, and he shall not gain the day yet!”

Cumberland, the son of George II and a soldier who gained infamy as the Butcher of Culloden, had lost heavily gambling on his man. He walked away in disgust. Broughton never fought again, but was rehabilitated in public opinion for his courage in defeat. He’d shown “bottom”, a phrase that endures to this day.

There are more recent examples of the fighter’s ultimate dilemma. Roberto Duran had a hard time of it after his “No mas” surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, but is wheeled out for after-dinner engagements as a monument to glorious times; similarly, many choose to forget Mike Tyson’s last proper fight 15 years ago, when he slumped like a rag doll against the bottom ropes and was rescued from further embarrassment the night Kevin McBride was good enough to drain the last drop of antagonism from Iron Mike’s fading fists.

On the night Dubois made his own tough call, Tyson was put on show again and went through the motions with some old fire in an exhibition against 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr in Los Angeles. The odds of 54-year-old Tyson having another real fight, though, are slim. As Muhammad Ali once said of Joe Frazier’s prospects against him: “He’s got two chances, slim and none – and Slim just left town.”

What is often forgotten is it was Ali who wanted to quit on his stool at the end of the 14th round of their shared nightmare, the 1975 Thrilla in Manila, seconds before Eddie Futch called it over for Frazier, who could barely see out of his one good eye. The other, as few knew, was already impaired.

Dubois is in decent company.

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