In a bout steeped in controversy and drama, Ukrainian heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk successfully defended his WBA, IBF, and WBO titles against British contender Daniel Dubois on the night of August 26, 2023. The showdown took place in Wroclaw, Poland, a neighbouring nation to Ukraine, providing an atmosphere that felt like home turf for Usyk.
The setting was electric, with a crowd of 40,000 filling the soccer stadium, many waving Ukrainian flags. A message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy added fuel to the fire, likening Usyk’s strength to that of the Ukrainian people.
Usyk entered the ring undefeated, with a 21-0 record, having previously snatched the belts from Anthony Joshua in 2021 and retained them after a rematch a year later. Dubois, a promising young heavyweight, came into the ring with a 19-1 record but had to deal with the size and geometry of a ring that seemingly favoured his opponent.
The initial rounds seemed to validate the oddsmakers who had heavily backed Usyk. He controlled the pace, delivering jolting jabs and straight lefts that Dubois couldn’t evade. It was clear Usyk had sharpened his tools, appearing more agile and potent in the opening sequences.
Then came the fifth round—an instance that would shape the rest of the night and likely echo in the annals of boxing history. Dubois planted a straight right on Usyk, sending him sprawling to the canvas. The punch, aimed at Usyk’s midsection, was ruled a low blow by referee Luis Pabon. Usyk was visibly shaken and spent moments against the ropes, gathering his breath. “Take your time,” Pabon advised, giving the Ukrainian valuable moments to recover.
The fight resumed with Dubois targeting the same area. Though Usyk seemed to lack some of his previous spark, he regained his footing as the rounds progressed. By the eighth round, he delivered a straight left followed by a cuffing shot that put Dubois down. The ninth round saw Usyk unleash a stiff right to Dubois’ jaw, compelling Pabon to end the contest.
Post-fight, Dubois and his promoter, Frank Warren, were vocal in their dissatisfaction. “I was cheated out of victory tonight,” said Dubois. “Boxing, it’s a tough sport, yeah? But I’m great,” Usyk retorted, adding, “I respect my opponent, but it’s boxing, it’s not ballet.” Both teams appear set to spar verbally about the validity of the low-blow call, and Warren hinted at a possible rematch or even appealing for the fight to be declared a no contest.
While controversy surrounded the low blow, Usyk remained resolute: “You are not allowed to hit a man in [that area]. It’s boxing, a sport for gentlemen.” His promoter, Alex Krassyuk, was less forgiving, accusing Dubois of deliberately targeting Usyk with low blows. “Sometimes it happens, but when you keep doing this on purpose, it means you have some kind of dirty plan,” he said.
The win revitalised Usyk’s prospects for a unification fight with WBC champion Tyson Fury, something he is visibly enthusiastic about. “I’m ready tomorrow,” Usyk stated. The road to this coveted matchup had collapsed earlier this year, prompting Usyk to take on Dubois, the WBA mandatory challenger.
As for Fury, he’s scheduled for a non-title bout against former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia come October. Should the unification fight not materialise, Usyk could potentially face Filip Hrgović, the IBF mandatory challenger—a matchup that doesn’t seem to excite the Ukrainian. “I go drink sparkling water,” Usyk mentioned, emphasising his need for a break before pondering his next opponent.
The night ended with questions about the possible next steps for both fighters and sparked a heated debate within the boxing community about the borderline punch in the fifth round. Whether it was an illegal low blow or a legitimate knockdown, that single moment has already entered the sport’s lore, intensifying discussions and generating significant intrigue for the future.
The world now waits to see if the mega fight, a clash between Usyk and Tyson Fury, will materialise in 2024, promising to be the division’s first undisputed championship bout since the dawn of the millennium. Until then, both men have multiple paths and, undoubtedly, myriad challenges ahead.