Joe Joyce and the Art of Heavyweight Maintenance

After a year out of the ring, London’s Joe Joyce will return in July against Christian Hammer, though surely hopes for more meaningful fights in the future

DESPITE being out of the ring for a year, and despite being now 36 years of age, the recent stalling of Joe Joyce’s momentum seemed hardly worth worrying about when taking into account the profile of the man he was supposed to fight next.

That man, of course, was New Zealand’s Joseph Parker, a relatively big name familiar to boxing fans, and their mooted fight, as good as a done deal just a few weeks ago, was meant to represent the step-up Joyce, 13- 0 (12), at this stage required; one almost worthy of a year-long wait.

Yet, somehow, instead of meeting Parker this summer Joyce will have to now settle for fighting Christian Hammer, 27-9 (17), on July 2 in London, as confirmed yesterday. This fight, in contrast to the Parker one, is a little underwhelming to say the least and, worse, suddenly Joyce’s year of inactivity and advancing age comes more into focus.

That’s not to say any of this is his fault. Nor, for that matter, are the people behind Joyce totally responsible for it. (In fact, on just a couple of weeks’ notice, Hammer, despite winning only three of his last seven fights, isn’t that poor a choice of opponent.) But certainly, given all we had hoped for and ultimately received, there can be no denying now that Joyce is becoming a hard man to match and a man easy to ignore.

Thirty-seven in September, the mild-mannered Londoner knows they don’t have much time to waste and yet, cruelly, many of his heavyweight peers, champions and contenders alike, seem more than happy to waste as much of it as they can .

Indeed, since impressing so much in stopping Daniel Dubois in 2020, Joyce has managed to box just once, a win over Carlos Takam (July 2021). That fight, on paper, was as much a sideways step as a forward one and the plan, after stopping Takam in six, was for Joyce to presumably then go on and either fight for the world heavyweight title or at least meet another of the contenders in the same waiting room.

Rather than that, though, he was left to watch other heavyweights – those with bigger names and bigger fan bases – decide the next move of their own careers before he could then contemplate moves of his own. There was talk, at different stages, of potential fights against Oleksandr Usyk (a man Joyce knows well from their amateur days), and Anthony Joshua, and Dillian Whyte, and finally, Joseph Parker. Any one of those names would have worked for Joyce, yet annoyingly for him, whereas the early part of his career was defined by him stepping up the competition and moving at a fast pace, his rate of progress has now curiously started to mimic the pace of the punches he throws on fight night.

Some might call it glacial, this pace, and perhaps unfairly, but one thing is nevertheless guaranteed with Joe Joyce: he is always effective and his punches always get to where he intended them to go in the end.

Who knows, the same could end up being true of the ‘Juggernaut’s professional career. Yet for now, with so much to offer and so little time to waste, it’s a shame, for his sake and ours, that the last 12 months have not been put to better use. Christian Hammer, rest assured, as solid as he is, is not the tool Joyce requires to open the final door to a shot at the world heavyweight championship.