By Michael Rosenthal
Joe Hanks was a hot heavyweight prospect as recently as 2013, when his record stood at 21-0 (14 knockouts). And then, in a 10-month span, his career went south.
The strapping, 6-foot-4 product of Newark, New Jersey, was stopped that year by then-unbeaten Andy Ruiz in four rounds in Macao and in his next fight in 2014 he lost a majority decision to Derric Rossy in Montreal.
Hanks didn’t fight again for 3½ years.
He insisted the inactivity had nothing to do with the back-to-back losses, which he attributed to fighting outside the U.S. “I don’t do well outside the country,” he said. He simply needed a break from the sport.
“I’ve been doing this since my teenage years,” said Hanks, who faces 2016 Olympic silver medalist Joe Joyce on the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury card Saturday in Los Angeles. “I wanted to live a little bit, have a family, get back to the point where I felt motivated and not obligated. I was just going through the motions.”
He then seemed to contradict himself, revealing the disillusionment that can come from setbacks and how they can impact a fighter’s career.
“I understand boxing,” he said. “A loss can set you way back. One career can go way left and the other to the right. You go through different kinds of emotions. By the time you wrap your head around it, you have a ‘f—k it’ moment.”
Hanks didn’t stray far from boxing, though. He worked off and on as a sparring partner, including multiple sessions with both Wilder and Fury. That helped keep him in shape, relatively sharp and connected to the sport.
Then a life event changed his perspective on his career: His first son was born. Joey Jr. will be 3 in January. Hanks signed with Kings Promotions, returned to the ring last December and is 2-0 in his comeback.
“I wanted to be able to look at my son and tell him I finished what I started,” Hanks said. “I want everybody to see what people were raving about at one point, to go after it wherever the chips might fall.
“At the end of it all, I want to be able to say I gave it everything I had.”
Hanks will have to give everything he has if he hopes to beat Joyce, who has stopped all six of his opponents and seems to be on a fast track toward a world title fight.
That doesn’t seem to faze Hanks, who is grateful for the opportunity to fight on a big stage in light of his setbacks and his long hiatus. This is the type of fight that will determine whether he can still get something significant done at 35 years old.
“I believe in what I can do,” he said. “I don’t put too much stock in how others feel about me. That’s a conversation I’ve had with some old-timers in the sport. They say, ‘people are fickle, believe in yourself, do the things you know you can do and focus on that.’
“… I’m not here by mistake. I can really fight.”
Michael Rosenthal is the most recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.