ONCE a punch line, his name a synonym for everything from “slow” to “simple”, Joe Joyce now suddenly has the opportunity in 2023 to capitalise on the missteps of his British rivals and prove he is everything they are not: ambitious, hungry, honest.
It is a rise he has been planning for some time, in truth, with it now coinciding with the stuttering of Anthony Joshua and the stagnation of Tyson Fury. Slowly but surely, in keeping with his style, Joyce has appeared to have stolen a march on many of his rivals – the ones located beneath Fury and Joshua – by simply showing a willingness to fight anybody in the division, most of whom look the other way, and then performing as though boxing, for him, is the easiest thing in the world.
His interpretation of it is rarely pretty, mind. Nor are Joyce’s moves the kind you would want to teach young boxers in amateur gyms. Yet there is nevertheless something wholesome and wonderfully straight-forward about the Londoner’s performances and one only hopes, despite his glaring flaws, he never changes; not as a boxer, nor as a character.
One could argue, too, that in a sport so keen to dumb down, and so keen to become accessible to even the simplest minds, Joyce, as accessible as they come, should be the gift that keeps giving for all the new fans it wants to attract. His style is, after all, one easy to understand and, moreover, one easy to enjoy.
However, Joyce, unlike the novices we have allowed to come in and simplify boxing, is a man of hidden depth and talent. He is a heavyweight arguably as tough as any we have seen in recent years and, worse than that for potential opponents, he possesses the kind of stamina more common in featherweights than heavyweights. He has pedigree as well, as a world-class amateur and Olympic silver medallist, and he has underrated fundamentals people choose to ignore just as he is sometimes prone to doing himself.
On the surface, and if you don’t know what you are looking at, he is a heavyweight easy to read and therefore easy to beat. Yet the truth is that Joe Joyce has made simplicity an artform. He has shown the world there is no need to overcomplicate things, whether that’s in the ring or when sitting at a press conference top table, and he has shown that breaking something down to its bare essentials is perhaps the quickest route to consistency.
Certainly, as we enter 2023, Joyce’s simplicity and honesty appear to me like life rafts on choppy, dangerous and untrustworthy waters. With him, you at least know what you are getting and can be sure he will deliver. With him, the words he says carry weight and, while perhaps not the most elaborate or creative, get you from point A to B without any need to read between lines, check facts, or second guess what is being said. Because Joe Joyce is, unlike his peers, a man whose words can be trusted and a man whose actions serve only to progress his boxing career; the manipulation of narratives and other people a skill he has, thankfully, no interest in learning.
Old-school in that sense, Joyce delivers exactly what you want from a boxer in 2023. He chases the toughest fights, he fights the same way every time, and so far, with 15 wins on his pro record, he typically ends these fights in quite spectacular style. His last one, for instance, an 11th round knockout of Joseph Parker in September was as good a heavyweight fight and as good a knockout as any we saw in 2022. Other heavyweights, the ones who couldn’t do that to Parker, would have dined out on such a finish for many years, whereas Joyce, having floored the New Zealander, simply shrugged, took a breath, and wondered who would be lined up for him next.
That, as it turns out, will be China’s Zhilei Zhang, a 39-year-old after Joyce’s own heart. Six foot six and painfully slow of both hand and foot, Zhang, like Joyce, is someone whose physical toughness and fighting spirit have helped him overcome quicker and more technical fighters. He also, like Joyce, brings a unique personality to their fight in London on April 15 which should make pre-fight press conferences as fascinating as they are awkward to watch.
For that, in a nutshell, is what the “Juggernaut” is all about and has been since day one. There is forever an awkwardness to his demeanour and his attempts to play the games of others (talking, selling, etc.), which, when everybody else seems so scarily assured in their ability to talk and lie and exaggerate, can only be viewed as refreshing. It says so much about his fighting prowess, too, that even with a complete blind spot as far as promotion goes, Joyce, at 37 years of age, remains the hottest ticket in town as we begin 2023, particularly in the context of British heavyweights.
And how can he not be? Tyson Fury, the world number one, is interesting only if he fights Oleksandr Usyk next, a fight all the more urgent following that soporific affair with Derek Chisora last December, and Anthony Joshua, meanwhile, for so long the darling of the British public, has voluntarily taken a backseat by choosing to fight Jermaine Franklin in April. Furthermore, the personalities of both Fury and Joshua have over the years been manufactured and fine-tuned to the point of becoming caricatures, a fate Joyce, resistant to change, has somehow been able to avoid. It makes the words of Fury and Joshua tougher to believe and it makes their fights – or events – tougher to accept at face value. It also makes it that bit harder to stomach the fact that we are now in 2023 and they have never even shared a ring.
In contrast to them, Joyce, for all his faults, feels like someone you actually know; a complete, fully-formed person. More importantly, he feels like someone you can trust.