By Rob Maul, courtesy of The Daily Star
ANTHONY JOSHUA last night gave British boxing hope Joe Joyce a ringing endorsement ahead of tonight’s super-heavyweight final.
Joyce will fight the Frenchman, Tony Yoka, at 7.15pm [UK time] in the Olympic gold medal bout – Britain’s last chance of winning their final medal of a superb Olympic Games in Rio.
Joshua famously won this same title at London four years ago. He then turned professional and has remained undefeated in 17 fights, winning the IBF world heavyweight belt in April.
Joshua and Joyce are very close and often spar together in training sessions.
And Joshua, 26, reckons his friend is actually in much better shape than he was back in 2012 – and a better boxer than he was at this stage of their amateur careers.
Joshua said: “The Joe Joyce from Earlsfield who we saw early in the British squad is a completely different Joe Joyce to the one we see now. He is 30. He has got his man strength, his brain has developed and his stamina has improved, too.
“Compared to the Anthony Joshua we saw in 2012, I believe Joe Joyce could be better – so I believe he will win the gold medal. Joe Joyce is phenomenal. I feel he has more experience and grounding than I had in 2012. He was around in 2012 (in the GB squad) but he’s taking his time.
“I’m not saying he would beat me but he’s very talented now and he’s looking good. He’s got good stamina and he’s got a better jab – and he can back-flip better than me! He has a lot of assets and individually he’s a very special talent.”
Joyce and Yoka have a chequered history over the past 14 months. Joyce beat Yoka in the semi-finals of the European Games in Baku in June 2015 – but then the Frenchman gained revenge with a controversial victory in the last four of the world championships last October.
Yoka stoked the flames ahead of their latest encounter by saying: “Joe is more or less scared by me, psychologically, because of what happened at the World Championship.
“Now I am the world No.1 so I am much more confident in my boxing and I think I can beat everybody. Joe is like a robot. He boxes with his heart. He is a good person and very focused and determined but he is boxing with his muscles and not with his head.”
But Joyce, who is a skilled portrait painter and acrobat, hit back
He said: “He has been saying I’m not smart in the ring – that I’m a beast but not smart. We’ll see on Sunday.
“I beat him the first time. He beat me the second time – which was quite close – so hopefully I can get the win the third time around.”
He added: “And if I win, yeah, of course I’ll do my signature backflip. I might do a bit of capoeira afterwards, too.”