It has been one of the biggest debates in boxing over the last two years – how do you take down Oleksandr Usyk?
A monster in the ring. A man who has fought with the Ukrainian army and doesn’t know when to quit. A man who swims lengths for five hours straight. A man who throws hammers in training. A man who has never been dropped – let alone stopped – in his career. Both Derek Chisora and Anthony Joshua have tried and failed to outclass him.
On August 26, Daniel Dubois will look to go one better and his trainer, the legendary Don Charles, believes he has the secret sauce to defeat the feared pound-for-pound sensation. He feels Usyk will crumble when he gets a taste of the British heavyweight’s power.
Charles was in a bullish mood as he sat with Mail Sport in his office, next to his Pug Yard gym in Finchley.
‘I’m going to be arrogant, he said. ‘If Daniel Dubois is hitting him the way we envisage, Usyk will not survive it. Trust me on this, I’ve trained Anthony Joshua – it’s not publicly known. I worked with AJ before the Olympics and he hits hard. Joshua is a phenomenal puncher, but Dubois’ power is unmeasurable. [The game plan] is no secret. [Dubois] needs to jump on Usyk’s a**e.
Daniel Dubois acquired the services of Don Charles (right) for his bout with Oleksandr Usyk
Usyk and Dubois square off on August 26 for the Ukrainian’s WBA (super), WBO and IBF titles
‘If the Daniel Dubois that I’ve trained for the last 16 weeks in successful in the first five or six rounds, Usyk will not be in a good state because Dubois hits differently.’
But is power enough? We saw Usyk get into trouble against Joshua in their Saudi Arabia fight last year during the ninth round, but AJ couldn’t capitalise and the Ukrainian recovered and ended up bossing the remaining rounds. Charles and his team have studied Usyk’s last few fights and have taken plenty from them.
Charles was a long-time coach of Chisora’s and worked with him during his fight against Usyk in 2020. While Del Boy lost unanimously, he gave Usyk issues with his aggression. The number one takeaway is that the former cruiserweight king must be pressured constantly. Charles is a big football fan and likens Usyk to a skilled footballer. For this fight, Dubois must be like Sergio Ramos going up against a prime Lionel Messi.
‘Quite simply, you have to pressure Usyk – similarly to how Derek did,’ he continues. ‘You don’t box Usyk, you have to dog it out with him. Once you get into that zone, you have to commit. In football, when you get a skilful footballer, you don’t give him space. You chop him down. You mark him, you barge him, you foul him. Make him uncomfortable. Usyk is a skilful player. You can’t give him room to do his thing. Take him out of that zone and break him down.
‘Joshua was very apprehensive. He had the chance and didn’t close the show. He didn’t want to gas and didn’t trust his defence. Daniel Dubois gets him in that position – he would be doomed. I’ve seen what he does. His knockout rate suggests that. When he smells blood, he goes in for it.
‘We’ve got to track Usyk. Don’t let him escape. Make the ring smaller, don’t follow him around. If he goes one way, cut him off. Keep him in one half of the ring and trap him. Daniel has the energy to punch and punch and punch. I believe we’ve got the perfect game plan to halt this guy because the minute Daniel corners him, the fight is over.’
Dubois’ team have huge confidence in their man, to such an extent that they don’t just think he will defeat Usyk – they fully believe it and talk about when, not if he becomes the proud owner of three world title belts in Poland on Saturday night. It’s a rare thing for a trainer to talk up his fighter’s chances so much, not least against a fighter who has never been beaten in his professional career – and one who has seldom looked close to being beaten.
Usyk is durable, intelligent and has a huge boxing IQ, but Charles believes he has ‘mileage’ on his clock and that his age will show when he comes up against the hard-hitting Dubois, who has stopped 18 of his 19 opponents.
‘We’re going to expose that,’ Charles says. ‘I’ve seen fighters age rapidly if the fight isn’t going their way. I think we’re about to witness that on the 26th. This is a 36-year-old man. We know the positives of Usyk, but let’s look at the negatives for a minute. He’s had over 300 amateur fights.
‘Then he fought in the World Boxing Super Series. Then he unified the cruiserweight division. That’s a lot of mileage on that clock and a lot of injuries that are there. We are going to reactivate those injuries.
Charles (left) believes Dubois’ power will be too much for unified heavyweight champion Usyk
‘There’s an 11-year age gap between them. There’s a lot of areas we draw confidence in. We’re going to push him. When [Chisora] went to fight Vitali Klitschko in 2012, everyone said he was going to get killed.
‘Derek took him the distance and Vitali aged in that fight. He fought one more time after that and then he retired. Vasiliy Lomachenko was running rings around people, then he came across Lopez – who was bigger, stronger, younger and punches harder. We’re about to do that to Oleksandr Usyk.
‘I study boxing, I see when these things happen. It’s about to happen. We’re not just saying it. We have trained for it.’
Dubois has certainly trained hard for this, undoubtably the toughest fight of his life. The 25-year-old has been put through the mill by Charles and his team in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Spain. He’s been running up hills and hitting pads at altitude, 2,500 feet above sea level, ripping his sparring partners apart.
Charles tells me a tale of one fighter who was hit by Dubois during a session and was left screaming in pain. His bicep had been ruptured. After being sent 40 minutes down the mountain to the nearest hospital, a scan had shown that his bicep had in fact been snapped in half.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing for Dubois. ‘Dynamite’ had emerged as an unstoppable force of nature in the heavyweight division before being handed a painful first defeat at the hands of Joe Joyce three years ago, which saw him take a knee after a horrific eye injury – and branded a quitter.
After following that up with three straight wins, his career was nearly in tatters when he fell to the canvas three times in the opening round of his last fight against Kevin Lerena last December, struggling with a knee injury. He overcame that scare to brutally stop Lerena in the third round, despite barely being able to put pressure on the leg.
Charles explains the struggles Dubois – who was then working with Shane McGuigan – had with his knee in the build up to that fight and his shock that he was able to pull off the win.
‘It hasn’t been well documented but he was told prior that he needed attention to his knee,’ he goes on. ‘They didn’t know when it was going to go but it was going to go. They took a gamble and lo and behold it went in the fight. Remarkably, for a guy who was meant to be a quitter got up with one leg. Shane didn’t panic and Dubois still brutally knocked him out.
Usyk last fought in August 2022 when he defeated Anthony Joshua for a second time
‘They were flying with half an engine and landed the plane successfully. He never should have won the fight because he couldn’t put weight on the leg. Lerena was the first name on my list to come for sparring for Daniel ahead of the Usyk fight. He refused it and I know why.’
Dubois has had his critics – especially in the wake of his defeat to Joyce – but Charles believes people will see a different side to him after his gruelling high-altitude camp. He has seen his young fighter show he is much more than just an aimless power-puncher.
‘He’s ticked every box and more. I took him into a hard, hard environment up in the mountains to take him out of his comfort zone. I’m glad he did that because now he’s going to reap the benefits of all that hard work. I’ve seen a lot, I’ve done a lot. I can suss a fight. We’re fighting a man who is very good, but very beatable.
‘I’m still finding things about this young man. He can have a ruck – I didn’t know that. He was sparring Moses Itauma, a very highly-rated fighter. They were having it off in sparring and that’s when I saw another side of Daniel that I didn’t know. There is a dog in Daniel Dubois and if he has to dog it, he can. When Moses came, he brought the dog out of Daniel. I thought, “Oh my god”. Me and my colleagues all looked at each other – we didn’t know he had that.’
This has been a turgid year for the heavyweights. Cancelled fights, failed negotiations. A lack of big match-ups the fans have craved. The usual heroes Joshua, Fury and Whyte have hardly covered themselves in glory. Dubois has a chance to light up the division again if his hand is raised this weekend.
He won’t be the favourite with the bookies, but no one in his camp is concerned in the slightest. Belief can only take you so far in boxing – but as long as the game plan Charles has mapped out for Dubois is executed, he cannot see anything other than history being made.
‘The only chance we’ve been given is that Daniel is a puncher and we’ve got a punchers chance. Do you what? We’ll take that. If it’s documented that Usyk has never been dropped, we’re going to be the first to do it.
‘[Dubois] will go down in history forever and he’s about to do that. We keep reminding him about that. Mohammad Ali shook the world when he beat Sonny Liston. He repeated it again against Forman, who was untouchable at the time. It’s about to happen again. We are up for it man. Usyk said he was hungry for this fight. We are starving.’