The manner in which Joe Joyce took apart Joseph Parker in Manchester tonight will terrify most of the heavyweight division, writes Elliot Worsell
PERHAPS the scariest thing about fighting Joe Joyce is that at some point in the fight his opponent experiences what, in normal circumstances, would be considered their best round only to then later realise it was in fact their worst round.
It will ultimately be reframed this way because in landing a lot of clean punches on Joe Joyce, 15-0 (14), you tend to do two things: one, you spark him into life, wake him up, and possibly even anger him, and, two, it invariably means you will soon have to receive something back, usually with interest. It’s at that stage, alas, having allowed yourself to get carried away with punching this figure lumbering towards you, you feel as though you have been tricked, misled, catfished by a true monster. It’s at that stage, even if winning the battle (that is, the round itself), you know you are on your way to losing the war.
This is a feeling experienced by most of Joyce’s opponents to date and is one with which Joseph Parker, his latest victim, is also now familiar. He, like the 14 who came before him, found himself alternating between moments of hope and pure desperation tonight (September 24) in Manchester before eventually, and maybe inevitably, being put out of his misery by a Joyce left hook in round 11.
Until then, Parker had been put through the ringer, or, simply, an ordeal, one as much psychological as it was physical. He had got off to a positive start in the first round, using his quicker hands to good effect, and shown signs early that he was confident in the game plan constructed by his coach, Andy Lee.
It was then in the third round, however, that Parker, building on the solid base he had created, got a little too excited and, to his detriment, started landing punches he didn’t necessarily want to be landing. This meant he was exploiting holes in Joyce’s defence, surely a good thing, but it also meant he was, in turn, snapping Joyce from his trance and inviting him into the kind of exchanges from which Joyce, given his engine and physicality, is never likely to leave second best.
And so again it proved tonight, especially in the third round, when Parker’s momentum was ripped up and thrown back at him, ensuring he would never be the same for the remainder of the fight. His movement from that point on would never be as smooth, his punches were never thrown with the same conviction or impact, and the ring, this ring he needed to expand rather than shrink, had suddenly never seemed so small and restrictive.
For Joyce, of course, this was all part of the plan, if indeed, with him, there is such a thing. Knowing only one way, he moves in one way (forward), and he fights the same way every time, safe in the knowledge that nobody at heavyweight can either replicate it, match it, or hope to live with it. His mind and his game plan are both simple, and there’s something to be said for that, keeping it simple. A clear mind, after all, tends to lead to clear path. As such, nothing is ever complicated, neither in Joyce’s mind nor in the ring. This freedom then allows him to express himself in the only way he knows how, the only way he can, and to do so with no hint of anxiety or tightness whatsoever.
It’s more than, too. For as well as blessed with an ability to keep things simple, and therefore guarantee his heart rate is no different in the ring than it is when waking up in bed, Joyce is blessed with a thicker bone density than your average human being and would appear, at times, impervious to punches and any sort of pain. It is arguably that, as much as anything he does with his own fists, that eats away at his opponent’s ambition, confidence, and resolve, for the only thing worse than being punched by a heavyweight is punching a heavyweight and seeing no impact at all. It is then, normally, a heavyweight takes a deep breath and realises they are in for a long, gruelling night. It is then they start to entertain self-doubt, the greatest opponent of all.
Joyce, arguably the toughest heavyweight out there, pushes this idea to the extreme. You watch him receive punches and no longer even worry about their impact, taking for granted his toughness just as he does, too. One day, I’m sure, it’s only natural, we will find ourselves surprised by what happens when a punch lands on Joe Joyce’s chin – these things have a way of catching up on you – but, for now, he makes it work for him. You can even tell, such is his reputation, opponents are these days starting to doubt their ability to make a dent in him, a thought undoubtedly crippling when about to set off for 12 rounds in his company.
That was presumably something Parker feared going in, then something he had no option but to accept as the fight progressed. For, unlike in fights against, say, Dillian Whyte or Dereck Chisora, other British aggressors, he was tonight unable to keep Joyce honest or slow the constant flow coming towards him. There were, for Parker, moments of success, and occasionally he would land the sort of shot that had dropped Whyte and Chisora in previous fights, yet all these moments really achieved was to arouse the man in front of him; this man who is somehow unable to equate being punched with any kind of crisis.
In fact, it was to Parker’s immense credit that he stuck to the task, as impossible as it seemed, and kept chipping away at something that showed zero signs of slowing, much less breaking. His own toughness, something established long before this fight, allowed him to stay in there, but never before had the New Zealander been forced to work at Joyce’s pace, and never had he looked so unsettled in the company of a British heavyweight – not with Chisora, not with Whyte, and not even with Anthony Joshua, to whom Parker surrendered his WBO belt in 2018.
To pinpoint why that is seems obvious on the face of it. However, there are other things, too, that make Joyce such a presence and such a problem for this current crop of heavyweights. For one, we have in the past often spoken of big men – whether the Klitschko brothers or someone like Nikolay Valuev – and the danger they present from afar (when using their size to make the ring seem enormous), but, with Joyce, 6’6, we have on our hands someone who uses his size and frame to actually make the ring smaller. He does so by suffocating opponents with large strides, before crowding you with his arms and chest, and this unique approach manages to reduce his size, making him easy to hit, but simultaneously increase his threat, for he is always there, in range, pressing down on you.
Rest assured, as awkward as the Klitschkos were, and as large as Valuev was, there is no style as problematic for any heavyweight as a style like the “Juggernaut”. These big men, after all, are big men in need of time and space to reload, refuel, and rest. The last thing they want, I can guarantee, is to be robbed of those two things, as Parker was tonight.
To regain time and space, you must keep Joyce off, which Parker tried to do via a number of methods in Manchester. He tried initially with his feet, then he tried throwing and landing the kind of shots that had humbled previous opponents, but nothing appeared to work.
By the halfway mark, in fact, the suspicion was that it wouldn’t be a single punch that would one day be the cause of Joe Joyce’s undoing but that it would instead be a perfect display of hitting and moving (no mean feat for any bulky heavyweight). That rules out Parker, too flat-footed to execute something like that, and possibly does the same for heavyweights like Dillian Whyte, and Deontay Wilder, and maybe Anthony Joshua, all of whom gain their momentum by hurting an opponent rather than making them miss.
The truth is, at 37, and with a complete disregard for an opponent’s punches, the Joyce kryptonite is far more likely to be in the possession of someone who can create distance and maintain it; someone who can box on their toes and offer different angles. Think Tyson Fury. Think Oleksandr Usyk. They, rather than attempt to make a dent in him, a futile exercise, would presumably try to evade him and could, who knows, fare better doing that than Parker, 30-3 (21), did tonight.
Because poor Joseph Parker, for all the punches he landed and all the courage he showed, ended up getting stopped in the 11th round by a left hook he never saw coming. He had both seen and been able to read earlier incarnations of this same punch from Joyce, so telegraphed were they, but, by round 11, he had been broken down and chewed up like gristle, changed to such a degree even the obvious things Joyce would do appeared suddenly inventive, shocking, and sneaky.
But, of course, that’s the Joe Joyce magic trick, isn’t it? He doesn’t change. He instead changes you.