THE saying ‘it’s harder than it looks’ springs to mind every time I see Joe Joyce box.
I’m usually torn between writing him off as a genuine heavyweight title contender – because of his age, lack of speed and fluency, and tendency to ship a lot of punches – and being quietly impressed by his endurance, durability, and temperament. Now, I’m fully onboard with the view that Joe Joyce is a threat to all the top-ranked heavyweights and that includes Tyson Fury.
Joyce’s style appears predictable and easy to unlock. He moves in on his opponents totally square on and does little to evade what’s coming back at him, although his footwork is nimble when he wants it to be. There are no feints to draw an opponent’s lead and his jab is merely pushed out. Joyce seems to have little time for all of that. For him, it’s all work and volume. He punches and punches with varying power and at a kind of hypnotic medium-speed with the aim of breaking the will of the man facing him. It’s not scientific or technical, nor is it brutal, but there’s generalship in what he does.
Just prior to the conclusion of his fights, opponents are usually gassed out, overwhelmed, and looking for a way out. His latest showing against Christian Hammer was a testament to that. Barely flinching from the avalanche of overhand rights the German bounced off his jaw, Joyce ambled forward in his inimitable way pouring out punches to head and body until Hammer could take no more and surrendered. Daniel Dubois, who was heavily favoured to defeat Joyce in their showdown last year, met a similar, painful, fate.
Joyce makes opponents extremely uncomfortable. The modern heavyweight routinely weighs 240lbs and above and simply cannot maintain a high pace at that weight. Against Dubois, Joyce weighed 258lbs (18st 6lbs) and averaged 59 punches per round. Dubois was a stone lighter and averaged 52 punches per round. Not vastly dissimilar, but the key difference was that Joyce’s punch output was normal for him, whereas Dubois was used to opponents crumbling early from his power (10 of his 15 wins at that point had come within two rounds).
There’s always an inevitability about a sprinter taking on a distance runner over a longer distance. The gruesome eye injury that ultimately forced Dubois into submission was aided by burning lungs and a spirit broken by the relentlessness of Joyce’s pace.
The strengths of the current crop of top heavyweights are diverse, but they have all had chinks in their armour exposed in recent fights, particularly by way of their stamina and punch resistance. Tyson Fury has good stamina and of course, superior ring craft to many of his rivals outside of Oleksandr Usyk, but he has been floored heavily several times. Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte have looked vulnerable for years, suffering knockdowns and have all being knocked out. Where they are weak, Joyce is mighty.
It’s not entirely impossible to envisage Joyce in a fight against any one of the four, forcing them to work at a pace that they’re wholly unaccustomed to, dragging them into a gruelling affair and pushing them to the brink. Of course, the caveat is that Fury, Joshua, Wilder and Whyte have firepower that has proven to be fight-altering and decisive, and a league above anything Joyce has experienced.
Joyce’s table has been set a little differently from other heavyweights and boxers in general. The traditional tale of social and economic disadvantage, neglect, and aggression, which have carved out many a boxer with hardened sensibilities, is replaced with genial curiosity and open-mindness to try new things, which includes a degree in Fine Arts and multi-disciplinary amateur sports career. The latter probably explains his elite cardiovascular abilities, while his late entry to amateur boxing and then the professional ranks give greater understanding to his technical limitations. He is what many said about Deontay Wilder, another top heavyweight who came into boxing relatively late: he’s really an athlete who boxes.
Physicality is the only way Joyce can compete at the top end of the heavyweight division; he won’t beat any of the top guys on craft or class. The question is: can he overwhelm them? The Juggernaut has no doubt that he can and he’s making a believer out of me.