By Jake Donovan
Joe Joyce went deeper than he has at any point in his pro career and was forced to hear the scorecards for the first time.
Both rate as mere footnotes, as the British heavyweight remains unbeaten after outpointing America’s Bryant Jennings over 12 rounds Saturday evening at O2 Arena in London, England.
Scores were 118-109, 117-110 and 115-112 in favor of Joyce, who weathered an early storm to take control of a fight that lost steam over the back half.
The early going lived up to the billing of the fight being the toughest of Joyce’s career. Jennings didn’t travel abroad just to play the role of opponent, not even on the heels of a stoppage loss to Oscar Rivas in his most recent performance earlier this year.
The former title challenger from Philadelphia (Penn.) timed the unbeaten Brit’s lateral movement and connecting with a left hook to the body in a huge momentum shift midway through round one. Joyce, highly active through the first half the round, became reduced to clinching in efforts to catch his breath while Jennings continued to dig downstairs.
“I was (guilty) of listening to the crowd,” Joyce (10-0, 9KOs) admitted afterward. “Bryant Jennings is an experienced fighter and I had to bite down. (Former unified heavyweight titlist Anthony) Joshua did the same thing (in his loss to Andy Ruiz in June) and I guess I didn’t learn from it. I used my toughness and experience to pull through it.
“If you’re knocking them out early, you become a bit complacent.”
A reversal of fortunes came in round two, with Joyce doing everything —landing right hands, sticking and moving when necessary—he wanted to before getting caught with the body shot one frame prior. Jennings scored with enough right hands upstairs to keep his unbeaten opponent honest, but a similar trend in round three suddenly left the American behind on the scorecards.
Jennings picked up the pace in round four, at times outworking the normally active Joyce who didn’t stray far from the scouting report he was willing to trade. The 6’6” heavyweight was wise to not empty his tank or even panic anytime Jennings was able to land flush, serving him well in subsequent rounds when he was in position to control the pace.
It served the 2016 Olympic Silver medalist well, as he largely outworked Jennings over the second half of the contest which lacked the sizzle of the front six. Jennings was aggressive at times but also frequently warned for low blows.
A point was eventually deducted from his scorecard in round 10, as Jennings responded to right hands upstairs with a left hook just below the belt. Given the wide margins on two of the three scorecards, it was enough to seal his fate although his not letting his hands go on the road is what ultimately cost him the fight.
Joyce was not without sin as he received several warnings but never to the point of losing a point on the scorecard.
Still, he reached a point where he settled for the openings Jennings provided rather than pushing harder to preserve his perfect knockout to win run in the pro ranks as he was extended the distance for the first time in his career. In fact, he’d never previously been past eight rounds, which remarkably came in his pro debut. All of his fight since then have ended in six rounds or fewer, having scored six knockouts inside the first three rounds including a 3rd round stoppage of Alexander Ustinov just this past May.
It’s something Jennings can add to his own personal scrapbook, though undoubtedly never here to settle for a moral victory. Instead, he heads home with his second straight loss, falling to 24-4 (14KOs).
The sequence marks the second time in his career that Jennings has endured back-to-back losses. He dropped a 12-round decision to then-World champion Wladimir Klitschko in his first career defeat more than four years ago, eight months prior to suffering his first stoppage loss versus then-unbeaten Luis Ortiz in the 7th round of their Dec. 2015 clash.
It was enough to reconsider his career, or at least the team around him. Jennings sat out for 18 months before resurfacing with Top Rank in returning to the ring in Aug. 2017. Five wins followed until running out of steam in the 12th and final round versus unbeaten Rivas this past January, the loss knocking him out of title contention.
Heading in the opposite direction, the latest win in Joyce’s career has the unbeaten heavyweight seeking bigger game as he comes up on just two full years in the pro ranks.
“I want to return in October or November,” insists Joyce. “I’m ready for anyone… (WBA “Regular” heavyweight titlist) Manuel Charr, that’s the one. I want to be a world champion.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox