It feels great to be wrong about Joe Joyce. He serves as an important reminder that first impressions aren't the be all and end all in the sport. Early in his professional career, his slow hand speed, ponderous feet and advanced age were significant knocks against his ability to be a legitimate contender in the heavyweight division. Yet Joyce has been able to stop one of the top heavyweight prospects in boxing (Daniel Dubois), a solid gatekeeper (Carlos Takam) and a top-ten fighter and former champion in the division (Joseph Parker).
Many of his Joyce's best attributes are intangibles that provide him with significant advantages over supposedly more talented fighters. The first thing that jumps out to me in the ring is his calm. Whether pushing forward in attack or eating a hellacious uppercut, Joyce doesn't get rattled. He sticks with his plan and has an ability to moderate the enormity of a big moment. He doesn't punch himself out despite a high volume and he also doesn't go into a shell after absorbing a big blow. He plows forward regardless of circumstance.
Joyce also strikes me as highly intelligent. In his bravura performance against Dubois, Joyce essentially won the fight with his left jab. And while that might sound simple, I believe that he did two different things than most fighters would have done in that match. He stuck with what was working instead of taking the opportunity to unload his holster with other weapons. Joyce understood that keeping it simple was getting the best of his opponent where many others would have overcomplicated the fight. In addition, Joyce ate some tremendous right hands from Dubois in that bout, the types of shots that would make many fighters reluctant to stay the course. Yet Joyce persevered and understood that to execute his game plan he needed to be in the line of fire.
|Photo courtesy of Queensbury Promotions|
The Dubois and Parker victories also highlighted his self-confidence. The straight rights from Dubois and the right uppercuts from Parker were the types of shots that could have discouraged many fighters, but Joyce was convinced that his approach would lead him to victory. Despite enough evidence to switch tactics, Joyce ultimately believed that his game plan was the right one, and he was proven correct.
Actually, the whole Joe Joyce story could fall under the self-confidence blanket. Fighters who turn pro at 32 aren't expected to have successful careers. I'm sure he was told by many that he was too slow, that he would never have enough seasoning and that he lacked the athleticism required to take on the top of the division. But he believed in himself when so much of boxing history was tilting in a direction away from his success. He refused to succumb to rules of thumb or the opinions of so-called experts.
A final intangible that has led to his success has been his coachability. Looking at his game plans against Dubois and Parker, he resembled two completely different fighters in the ring. Against Dubois, he kept the fight on the outside and used his jab to establish dominance. Parker presented different issues but the key that Joyce and trainer Ismael Salas discovered was that Parker only liked to fight in spurts. Whenever Parker connected with a serious punch or combination, Joyce would immediately return fire with hard power punches. When Parker would try to get out of the pocket Joyce would follow him with pressure and more punches. He wouldn't let Parker rest and did a magnificent job of depleting him before the conclusive left hook in the 11th round.
Joyce's intangibles elevate him beyond his skill set, but it would also be wrong to dismiss his skills, many of which are subtle. He can go to the head or body with all of his shots. He can apply pressure without smothering himself. He has a ramrod jab. He can throw his hook tight or wide.
Joyce is also an underrated athlete. There aren't too many 260-pound fighters who can do flips in the ring after a victory. His work rate and motor are outstanding for a heavyweight. Although there is a crudeness to aspects of his game, he used several foot and shoulder feints to throw off Parker's rhythm. He also has the coordination and strength to avoid being clinched, which is vital in the heavyweight division for fighters who want to win with volume.
In just 15 professional fights Joyce has improved in several significant aspects. He now understands distance, spacing and range very well. He's not jabbing from too close and he's also not smothering himself on the inside. Joyce knows which punches to throw at a particular range. He's also become adept at cutting off the ring. Parker was supposed to have advantages in foot speed over him, yet Joyce was able to keep the fight at his tempo and usually right in front of him. He knew where Parker wanted to be, but didn't just follow him without letting his hands go. He applied intelligent pressure, whether he needed to move laterally, diagonally or straight ahead.
The Juggernaut continues to roll on, leaving a trail of heavyweight hopefuls in his wake. Does he have the attributes to get to the mountaintop in the heavyweight division? Let's wait and see, but he has put himself in the conversation, and to me that was an unthinkable proposition just a short time ago.