By Alan Hubbard
To have experienced the sort of Saturday night fervour that enveloped a British heavyweight title fight to the same level as Daniel Dubois’s first defence against Joe Joyce you would need to go back just a year short of half a century to when another popular champion, the beloved Henry Cooper, faced young challenger Joe Bugner at a packed Empire Pool, Wembley in March 1971 with the Commonwealth and European belts also at stake.
The nation was agog with fascination as fight night approached.
At 37, Britain’s most adored fighting man was 16 years the senior of immigrant Bugner who was simply seen as an upstart refugee from Hungary.
Virtually no-one outside the Bugner camp wanted him to win, and few really thought he could.
Liked Dubois, Cooper had a fist that was a mighty weapon, a famous left hook known as ‘Enry’s ‘Ammer which had once left the then Cassius Clay needing to be saved by the bell, plus Angelo Dundee’s illegal smelling salts and a curiously slit glove.
Dubois’s principal armoury is a thunder ball right hand, which has made him a 4 -1 on favourite to splosh the hopes of the 12 years older Joyce, an Olympic silver medallist.
Alas for Cooper, he took his time and played a cautious waiting before trying to nail Bugner and as the contest passed the halfway stage the Cambridgeshire-based blonde Adonis worked out how to nullify that left hook. Bugner went on to go the full 15 rounds and snatch a highly controversial points decision. And therein lies the danger for Dubois.
Dynamite Dan needs to light a short fuse if he is blast out the Juggernaut.
Like the other Joe, who is so frustrated Cooper, Joyce is quite capable of outlasting Dubois if he is still on his feet after six or seven rounds to walk away not only with the precious Lonsdale Belt for the British title wrapped around his waist but tucked under his arm but the Commonwealth and European belts and a couple of other baubles, the WBC silver and a WBO ranking, thrown in for good measure.
Dubois needs to learn the lesson of his most celebrated predecessor, the late Sir Henry, and end it early – the quicker the better.
I was at the Cooper-Bugner fight and like the majority of the 10,000 in the arena was open mouthed in disbelief when Harry Gibbs, arguably the best referee British boxing has ever had, gave the verdict to Bugner. I thought Cooper had won; so did BBC commentator Harry Carpenter who exclaimed in amazement: “How can they take away a man’s title like that?”
As the final bell sounded Cooper had immediately offered his right arm to Gibbs but the referee, a no-nonsense docklands labour master, ignored it, walked past him and over to Bugner, raising his arm instead.
In those days the referee was the sole arbiter, and under Britain’s antiquated fractional scoring system had given it to 21-year-old Bugner by mere quarter of a point. “I thought I nicked it, ‘Arry,” said the disconsolate Cooper to the referee. Gibbs sniffed and retorted “Champions don’t nick nuffin’”
Not only was there uproar in the arena that night, but nationwide on the following day, and one Labour MP even raised the result it in parliament, calling for Bugner to be stripped of the titles and “sent back to wherever he came from from!”
Cooper retired and never spoke to Gibbs for some 20 years afterwards. Comments he made about him in a later autobiography led to the referee successfully suing him for libel.
Don’t expect such a palaver this Saturday night. But what we will get is a much better fight, real blood and thunder stuff. BT Sport viewers should start gripping their seats at home around 10:30 pm when the gladiators make their respective ring walks. And once the bell goes, don’t blink – or drink.
As promoter Frank Warren said “If you were to watch just one fight this year, this is the one.”
I still think 23-year-old Dubois, who also has the gift of the jab and is rightly regarded as the best young heavyweight in the world, will win by knocking out or stopping Joyce within five rounds. But if he doesn’t ignite that dynamite fuse quickly enough and Juggernaut Joe trundles on towards the championship rounds then the appointed referee, 57-year-old Kent prison officer Ian John Lewis, will be hoisting the hand of Joyce aloft, maybe even as controversially as Gibbs did the other Joe’s all those years ago; though this time three ringside judges would decide the outcome including Scotland’s well- respected Victor Loughlin and probably two from overseas.
The location of the fight being the Church of England headquarters, Church House in Westminster, usually occupied by gatherings of the clergy, would suggest it is more used to Bible-punching than the real thing. In which case when the combatants are called to mid ring for the traditional pre-fight sermon and required to put their hands together before the first bell, the British Boxing Board must wonder whether they should have appointed a Rev rather than a Ref.
Exclusive live coverage of the bill headed by Dubois v Joyce begins from 7.30pm on BT Sport 1