Joe Joyce’s rise through the heavyweight rankings has been an unusual one.
Heavyweights are renowned for peaking later than the lower weight divisions – just look at the two current title-holders Tyson Fury, 35, and Oleksandr Usyk, 36.
But not turning professional until the age of 32? Joyce was always going to be up against it to reach the top.
Yet Joyce had a good reason for joining the professional ranks so late. He was enjoying a stellar amateur career instead.
Having missed out on a spot at the London 2012 Olympics to Anthony Joshua, Joyce opted to remain in the amateurs and target the next Games in Rio four years later.
Joe Joyce did not turn professional until he was 32 after enjoying a stellar amateur career
He announced himself to the British public when he took home gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
It was a significant step towards his Olympic dream, and the giant heavyweight celebrated in style by performing the Brazilian street dance Capoeira in the ring afterwards.
Joyce was introduced to Capoeira by his mother, and has made the dance, which includes back flips and a handstand, his trademark over the years, proving he’s no ordinary Joe.
He secured a World Championship bronze medal in 2015, and then it was on to Rio.
Joyce was determined to go all the way, and did exactly that, booking his place in the final against France’s Tony Yoka.
Putting the pressure on from the opening bell, Joyce appeared to get the better of the exchanges as the bout progressed, but it was Yoka who got his hand raised as he claimed a split decision victory.
Joyce was denied an Olympic gold medal after controversially losing the final in 2016
Joyce has become known for his Capoeira dance after winning fights, but did not get to show it off after the Olympic final as Tony Yoka was controversially declared the winner
It seemed a controversial verdict at the time, and criminal investigator Richard McLaren would later highlight 11 suspicious bouts from the Rio Olympics after looking into potential corruption, including Joyce’s fight with Yoka.
Investigators struggled to prove beyond doubt that fixing of fights had taken place, meaning the result remained the same, but all 36 referees and judges at the Games were subsequently stood down.
Joyce was left disheartened by missing out on Olympic gold. It was time to leave the amateur scene behind and turn professional.
Most fighters get a few easy touches upon their introduction to the professional game to pad out their record and build confidence. Not Joyce.
Making his debut a month after his 32nd birthday, he was thrown in with veteran Ian Lewison, stopping him in the eighth round of a scheduled 10 round contest.
Three fights later he was fighting for and winning the Commonwealth title, dispatching Lenroy Thomas inside two rounds. Joyce may have started late, but he was ready to make up for lost time.
He continued to test himself, knocking out former world champion Bermane Stiverne in just his eighth fight, and then beating ex-world title challengers Alexander Ustinov and Bryant Jennings in successive bouts.
Then came his domestic showdown with Daniel Dubois.
Joyce entered the fight as the underdog, with many believing his uncompromising style would not be good enough to get the job done against his younger opponent.
But Joyce proved his doubters wrong, bludgeoning his way past Dubois as his rival took a knee and didn’t beat the count in the 10th round after suffering a fractured eye socket.
Joyce took apart Daniel Dubois, stopping his domestic rival in the 10th round and fracturing his eye socket
That victory edged him closer to a world title shot as he claimed the British and European titles
That win crowned Joyce the new British and European champion, putting him firmly in the world title mix, and he only enhanced his credentials over the next two years by winning three more fights, which included beating another former world champion in Joseph Parker.
Heading into 2023, a world title shot appeared inevitable. Fury and Usyk would settle their differences, and Joyce just had to get past China’s Zhilei Zhang in the meantime.
Oh, if only it was that simple.
Fury and Usyk failed to agree terms on their undisputed clash, and Zhang proved to be far better than just a stepping stone.
The warning signs were there early on when Joyce faced Zhang in April at the Copper Box Arena. Zhang established his southpaw jab in the first round before staggering Joyce with a thunderous left hand in the second.
Joyce simply could not get out of the way of Zhang’s heavy shots, and with his right eye closing, the fight was waved off in the sixth round.
It was a shattering blow for Joyce as he suffered his first professional defeat, but he has been given the opportunity to exact revenge.
His rematch with Zhang will take place at Wembley Arena on Saturday in what promises to be a career-defining night for Joyce.
Joyce suffered the first defeat of his professional career against Zhilei Zhang in April
Joyce was deemed unable to continue after picking up a gruesome eye injury
Joyce will get his shot at revenge in a must-win rematch with Zhang this weekend
A win would put him right back in the title picture, ready to jump in with either Fury or Usyk if they continue to avoid each other.
But another loss would spell the end of Joyce’s dreams of becoming a world champion.
He turned 38 earlier this week, and coming back from consecutive defeats at that age would surely be a step too far.
The stakes could not be much higher. Joyce has bounced back from Olympic heartbreak to thrive as a professional. He must now overcome adversity once more to show he deserves to dine at the top table in the heavyweight division.
Source: Daily Mail Online