On Saturday night, the WBO number 1 and number 2 ranked contenders, Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker meet in Manchester. 12 rounds to decide who becomes the Interim heavyweight world champion and likely next opponent for unified title holder, Oleksandr Usyk.
It has been an unusual journey for both fighters; let us delve into the careers of both, and their soon-to-be dovetailing, in a little more detail…
Joseph Parker is, himself, a former WBO heavyweight champion. With a record of 30-2, and with those two losses coming against Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, one would be forgiven for thinking that the 30-year-old Parker is still up there as one of the best in the heavyweight division. He’s certainly pound-for-pound one of the most likeable, but question marks persist over just how good he is/can be.
Credible wins against Hughie Fury and a 30-something Carlos Takam are noteworthy, but these are offset by what-should-have-been-a-loss to Andy Ruiz – where many (rightly) suggest he was gifted a hometown decision in a reasonably close fight – and a close (first) fight against the ageing Derek Chisora.
Parker also alludes to issues outside of the ring, to previous discontentment, disconnection and disillusionment with boxing, even at the height of his success; but at least he now seems focused in this, the latest chapter of his career. Indicative of such renewed dedication, he has even teamed up with trainer Andy Lee and moved his training camp to Morecambe, eschewing the celebrity comforts of his native New Zealand, where he trains alongside WBC champion, Tyson Fury.
At 37, Joe Joyce is the significantly older of the two, yet he is the undefeated victor of only 14 professional fights. An Olympic silver medallist, Joyce is a graduate of the 2016 GB amateur boxing team, losing the final of that event, his final amateur fight, against France’s Tony Yoka.
Joyce's style has suited the smaller-gloved, vestless version of ‘the sweet science’, however, and he comes into this contest with 13 KO triumphs. (For anyone looking for an esoteric quiz question, the only man to last the full 12 rounds with Joyce is America’s Bryant Jennings. (Half a point if you answered Bryan Jennings.))
With such a heady KO percentage, one might further lose themselves into believing that Joyce is Mike Tyson incarnate. All those who watched him fight Ustinov could never suffer such delusion. Joyce has been (rightly) accused of being a tough watch and of being comparatively too slow and easy to hit.
I, too – a survivor of that demoralising night in Stevenage – subscribed to this theory and vowed never again to watch any fight involving Joyce, any football match involving Stevenage or to do anything else on the Cambridge-to-London commute but drive aggressively past the town with both my windows up and without even a sideways glance. In fact, even the sight of Monaco-based-but-Stevenage-born Lewis Hamilton used to trigger an ugly shock of ill recognition.
But that was then and this is now.
It was hard not to forgive everything and to simply swoon in appreciation for the Quasimodo charms of Joyce’s style in November 2020, as he jabbed favoured prospect Daniel Dubois (his most credible victory to date) into a 10th round retirement. And it is this style, in opposition to the polished slickness of Joseph Parker that makes this fight so intriguing.
Yes, Parker has pedigree and movement, but Joyce has relentlessness, a stiff jab and a chin that could repel a ball-peen hammer. On Saturday, we will find out which of these two Joe’s will stay general issue and which one is steadily threatening to become big issue. Tune in to find out.