LIKE a 19-stone, monosyllabic metaphor for life itself, heavyweight Joe Joyce offers opponents so much hope and opportunity only to then later wear them out, grind them down, and eventually leave them in a heap, their world view changed, their every dream crushed.
Tonight (July 2) at Wembley Arena, the ‘Juggernaut’ was at it again, the opponent this time Romania’s Christian Hammer, a man who has seen a thing or two in his 14-year professional career.
Unlikely is it, however, that Hammer, 27-10 (17), will have seen anything like Joe Joyce before. Nor, for that matter, is it likely he will have been involved in a fight in which for two rounds he felt so much positivity, yet, three minutes later, found himself crying out for an escape.
In the end, Hammer found this escape in the fourth round, when a body shot folded him in half at the 1:20 mark. But, before that, Hammer seemed to be enjoying all the hope and positivity most Joe Joyce opponents experience in the opening rounds. He was moving, and he was punching, and he was landing. In fact, through rounds one and two, it was Hammer, not Joyce, who was landing the more eye-catching shots, predominantly with his overhand right but also occasionally with his left hook, and it was Joyce, the one coming forward, who appeared to be in need of an adjustment or two.
So easy was it for Hammer to land on him, most of the time he didn’t even need to look at Joyce in order to find a home for his shots. He would, instead, just shut his eyes, grit his teeth, and bowl over either his right hand or left hand, safe in the knowledge, with Joyce trudging forward unaware, the punch would invariably find its target.
This sight, for fans of Joyce, and indeed Joyce himself, will have come as no surprise, nor will it have been a cause for panic. It is, after all, by now a theme of his fights. One could even go so far as to argue that we are at the stage now where Joyce probably likes the idea of opponents opening up on him, and getting brave the way Hammer did, if only because it leaves them all the more susceptible to expending their energy and being suffocated by the Londoner in the long run.
Certainly, if any kind of trap, it was one Hammer fell into, just as so many others before him have. It happened quickly, too, his unravelling, with his good start – rounds one and two – soon forgotten once Joyce upped the pace and made the ring feel ever so small in round three. At that point, Hammer’s ambition ebbed away; its departure written all over a face drained of colour and in two eyes robbed of hope. No longer did he move smoothly, no longer were his own punches anything other than desperate, and when dropped by a cuffing blow, Hammer appeared relieved to have secured some respite, even if pride still ensured he complained about the shot landing behind the head.
Regardless, the fight was over, with the fourth round a mere formality. Joyce, now in the groove, motored into that round in typically relentless fashion and proceeded to club Hammer to the ground three times, most of the knockdowns owing as much to exhaustion on the part of Hammer as anything else.
In many ways, it was a copy-and-paste job for Joyce – a win no different than previous ones against the likes of Carlos Takam, or Bermane Stiverne, or Michael Wallisch. It was a performance worrying and impressive in equal measure; one that exposed each of his flaws yet also highlighted strengths to Joyce’s game and character largely unmatched by anyone else in the heavyweight division. (For who, in 2022, is able to establish and maintain the kind of pace Joyce sets, irrespective of the shots he takes in the process? Indeed, who is able to take the kind of shots he takes in the process?)
He is not perfect, far from it, but Joyce, now 14-0 (13), is arguably something scarier than perfect: he is unique. His personality is unique, his approach to fighting is unique, and the pace he sets, for a heavyweight, is unique. This, no matter how it may look, makes him a hard fighter to get a read on and an even harder fighter to prepare for. You might choose to hit a heavy bag to prepare for the feeling of hitting Joyce and seeing no change in his expression, but how exactly do you do about replicating the sort of tempo he sets once the first bell rings?
Perhaps, in the end, you don’t. Perhaps you give up trying to replicate it in training, and give up trying to match it on fight night, too. Perhaps, if you’re Deontay Wilder, you simply have faith that the punches you are almost guaranteed to land will inevitably see Joyce malfunction and crumble to the floor. Or perhaps, if you’re Tyson Fury or Oleksandr Usyk, you have faith that your movement and intelligence will sufficiently bamboozle Joyce and leave him wading through mud in search of you.
As for the rest, it’s anyone’s guess. But what we do know is this: Joyce’s inability to lure The Rest into a fight at this current time says everything about their confidence in being the ones to find a way to stop him. Without possessing Wilder’s power, or Fury or Usyk’s movement, it’s hard to see a way around Joyce and, for as much as he is made out to be slow and clumsy and lacking any grace, the unwillingness of these rivals to take advantage of his perceived failings speaks volumes.
He is an easy target in every sense, Joyce, yet far from an easy fight. Despite his obvious flaws, he has things no other heavyweight can boast. His chin, for one, could be as good as any out there, while his work-rate, as already mentioned, is unrivalled. There is also a sense of reliability with Joyce you don’t get with any of the other top British heavyweights, both in terms of what he says and what he later does on fight night. He is, on the face of it, a British heavyweight you can trust. He says what he means and means what he says. He then delivers, always, once the first bell rings, his style and goal never seeming to waver from beginning to end.
There is, in fact, no surer thing than Joe Joyce at heavyweight right now, his only issue that of time. Specifically, his worry will be that other contenders and belt-holders will want an easier time in the ring, or just more time in the ring, and will therefore avoid Joyce at all costs. There is then the issue of time running out on Joyce, someone who, at 36, will know he hasn’t got much of it to waste.
Still, he should take heart from both his own performance tonight and, also, the fact that the heavyweight division has in recent years embraced heavyweights who do things differently. Neither Fury nor Usyk, for example, would be considered typical in the way they fight, yet it’s their very uniqueness that has enabled the pair to befuddle and ultimately dominate so-called conventional heavyweights, those with heavyweight bodies and traditional heavyweight styles.
While not unique in that same way, the uniqueness Joyce brings is no less intimidating for those about to fight him. If men like Fury and Usyk perform moves hard to read, fathom or copy, Joyce, on the other hand, presents to opponents that worst kind of problem: one they can easily see and easily understand, yet one they have absolutely no ability to stop. In other words, when dealing with a problem like Joe Joyce, it’s not the killer from another planet you fear, it’s the quiet man next door.