Monday, October 3, 2022

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Joyce and Parker set logic aside to roll back boxing’s old clock

On Saturday night in Manchester, Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker will take part in one of the best heavyweight fights to take place in Britain for many years.

Both Joyce and Parker are in the top 10 in the world, both awaiting a championship fight but instead, against all logic, agreed to fight. It’s a truly rare occurrence in the muddled business of boxing and one that they agreed to on a voluntary basis and not under orders from any of the sanctioning bodies.

Joyce is undefeated in 14 professional fights since her loss in the Olympic final in 2016; Parker once held the WBO title and he’s only lost to the best. Parker was never stopped, and Joyce knocked out 13 of the men he beat. I have no idea why these two are fighting – it’s a joy.

Please forget all talk of the oddly passive Parker that chilly night in Cardiff against Anthony Joshua in 2018, the night the New Zealander lost the WBO belt. And forget the slim victory over Andy Ruiz Jr to win the title in 2016. Parker is a different beast now, a dangerous fighter, a hungry man. He is a convinced man and he has just come out of a war with Derek Chisora ​​last December. It was a rematch and Parker dominated.

Parker works with Andy Lee, part of the team that transformed Tyson Fury, and their relationship blossoms; Parker looked like a totally different fighter against Chisora. He was aggressive and relentless, desperate for a quick finish. Parker now lives in Morecambe with Fury, a serious change of intention from his home in New Zealand.

Over the past few years, Parker has dated four men from the world’s top 10; Joyce has yet to meet one. There is absolutely no suggestion or sign or rumor that Parker is nearing the end of his career. He is, at 30, seven years younger than Joyce. This is an extremely dangerous fight for Joyce.

In 2018, in a sold-out O2 Arena, Parker lost a slugfest to Dillian Whyte. It was a fight encouraged by many dreams that the winner would get Joshua, who at the time was the world champion; Whyte and Parker had both lost their unbeaten records to Joshua. In the fight, Parker was bundled up in the second round and dropped heavily in the ninth. Parker had previously used his large chin as part of his defense. However, with just 34 seconds left in the 12th and final round, Whyte fell injured, dizzy and seemingly finished. The truth is that both were tired, bruised and battered. Whyte somehow survived the final seconds to make the decision. It’s an ominous reminder of exactly what Parker is capable of.

All the facts and figures are worrying markers for Joyce; combat is a remarkable and rare risk. “Why did Joe take it?” Parker asked in August. It’s a good question. Joyce’s response is commendable: “The best must beat the best. The rest of that concise sentence could very well be something like: but not in the modern heavyweight industry, where opportunity comes to those who wait and have powerful brokers fighting for what they rarely deserve. Obviously Joyce’s version is a better soundbite.

The winner will theoretically be in a position of strength with the WBO, one of the four main sanctioning bodies, which will mandate a fight against its champion. However, Oleksandr Usyk, their champion, might fancy a fight with Tyson Fury next May; the WBO won’t want to miss this cash cow party. Still, it’s a good idea and – oddly – Saturday’s fight is now for the WBO interim heavyweight title.

Introducing interim titles used to be a good idea to keep a belt active if a champion had an injury, but Usyk defended his title about 40 days ago. Still, no one can complain if the price of a great fight is yet another useless waist jewel.

A 12 round victory for Joyce would be fantastic and a stoppage by Joyce would send a serious message to the rest of the boxing community. Parker has the power, the experience, the form and the chin to beat Joyce. It’s truly a risky, uphill battle for both of them at a time when just about every major competitor in every weight class is choosing the easy route. Joyce and Parker deserve respect for breaking with tradition, turning back the old boxing clock and agreeing to fight.

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