Joe Joyce is on the brink of landing a world heavyweight title shot, and his story is one you will hear more about over the next two years.
Joyce has yet to fight for a major belt but already knows the men at the top well. He fought WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk as an amateur, has sparred hundreds of rounds with former champion Anthony Joshua and has also sparred with WBC titleholder Tyson Fury.
The undefeated Londoner could soon be sharing a ring again with either Usyk, Fury or Joshua if he overcomes China’s Zhilei Zhang at the Copper Box Arena in East London, England, on Saturday (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET).
Here are some things you need to know about the contender known as “The Juggernaut,” who has been unstoppable in 15 fights, knocking out 14 opponents.
Joyce’s closing in on title shot
Usyk could face WBA mandatory challenger Daniel Dubois next, if the English challenger can recover from a serious knee injury in time. Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic, the IBF’s leading challenger, is next on the list for Usyk before the winner of Joyce-Zhang.
As WBO interim title holder, Joyce will be the mandatory challenger for the WBO full world title if he beats Zhang, but Joyce is impatient for his shot at Usyk, although it looks unlikely for this year.
“Once I get past Zhang, then I can start calling out more names,” Joyce said. “I’d love to fight Fury, Usyk, Joshua.
“It’s really annoying that Dubois is ahead in the queue, and Hrgovic as well. It’s out of my control but fortunate for Dubois to come off a devastating loss [to Joyce in 2020] and then be before me in the selection for a title shot.”
While others are ahead of Joyce for a shot at Fury’s WBC title, both English boxers work with UK-based promoter Queensberry Promotions, and should a voluntary defense be possible for Fury, it’s a fight that can be easily made.
Strengths and weaknesses
At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Joyce has boxing ability, durability and punching power. A lack of head movement and a porous defense made some rounds difficult in his last fight against Joseph Parker (an 11th-round KO victory in September), but Joyce has shown enough to suggest he is a threat to any of the heavyweight elite.
Joyce began boxing late at 22 years of age but he still has the foundation of an accomplished amateur career and is now guided by a boxing professor in trainer Ismael Salas. When Joyce faced Dubois in November 2020, he showed how he could follow a clever strategy and utilize his jab against a powerful puncher.
“When I fought Daniel Dubois [Joyce won by 10th-round KO], a big puncher, he had to have his feet set to land a punch,” Joyce told ESPN. “But by keeping my feet moving, I could nullify his power. He had a certain 30-second window when he could land his punches before he was tired out.”
Joyce can also bang and take a shot, as displayed by his last fight, a tear-up versus former WBO champion Joseph Parker in September. Parker put Joyce under a lot of pressure in the early rounds, but Joyce absorbed some big blows before taking control later on and forcing an 11th-round stoppage. However, you were left wondering what a bigger puncher than Parker (like Deontay Wilder or Joshua) would do if allowed those openings against Joyce, and how many fights like that Joyce can — and should be allowed to — have.
He’s familiar with the heavyweight elite
Whoever Joyce faces down the line for a belt, they will be familiar to him. Joyce has previous ring experience with Fury, Usyk and Joshua.
As an amateur, Joyce was a regular sparring partner for Joshua. The two were good friends and teammates on the Great Britain Olympic boxing squad. Joshua was further along in his development than Joyce at the time and won the super heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, while Joyce watched as a spectator.
Joyce suffered a first-round stoppage loss to Joshua in his first amateur bout in 2011, but two years later won a decision over Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic, who is now the IBF’s No. 1 challenger to Usyk. Joyce met another future professional rival while an amateur when he lost to Usyk by unanimous decision in 2013, a year after the Ukrainian won heavyweight gold at the 2012 Olympics.
Joyce, from Putney in southwest London, won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, losing a controversial decision to France’s Tony Yoka, now a rival contender in the professional ranks, and then turned pro.
Joyce last sparred with Joshua in 2017, and relations between the pair have cooled in recent years.
In 2018, Joyce was employed as a sparring partner for Fury in Las Vegas, ahead of Fury’s first encounter with Wilder.
Joyce’s no average Joe
Joyce is also an artist, and he’s happy discussing which oil paintings he has recently produced, or how he has helped with the creative design of his boxing shorts. He is funny, self-effacing and comfortable talking about topics beyond boxing.
Joyce has a degree in fine arts from the Middlesex University London and was once a cheerleader for Sacramento State University, during the semester he spent in California on an exchange from an English university. He also competed at rugby, enjoyed springboard diving, played the trumpet, tried martial arts and was a swimming instructor before taking up boxing.
Home away from home
Joyce has worked with a few trainers, mostly in the U.S., including Abel Sanchez (2018-2019) and Ismael Salas (2020-currently). He prepares for every fight with Salas, of Cuba, in Las Vegas and has even bumped into rival contender Wilder at a gym there.
Joyce first fought in the United States as a professional in 2018, and more U.S. appearances seem likely, especially as he spends so much time in Vegas.
A man in a hurry
Joyce turned professional late in 2017 and, now aged 37, he wants to take the quickest route possible to a world title shot.
While Joyce has time on his side compared to the oldest ever world heavyweight champion (George Foreman, 46 years old in 1995), he most likely has a short window left to achieve his goals. Only eight boxers over the age of 38 have held a world heavyweight title, which will influence what fights he chooses to take.
Joyce will be calling for the fight against Usyk or Fury should his hand be raised Saturday.