Joe Joyce knew what he was signing up for when pushing to reschedule a fight with Joseph Parker.
The pairing was once in play for July 2, only to fall apart when Parker walked away just prior to signing a bout agreement after verbally agreeing to terms. It was put back in the mix upon the insistence of Joyce remaining active against the toughest available opponent as he waits out his status as the mandatory challenger to the WBO heavyweight title. The two will now meet September 24 at AO Arena in Manchester, England.
Parker (30-2, 21KOs) is a former WBO heavyweight titlist currently on a six-fight win streak. The 30-year-old New Zealander is by far the most established opponent that Joyce (14-0, 13KOs) will face to this point in his career—precisely the challenge he sought while waiting for his first major title shot.
“He’s been to the top of the mountain,” Joyce told iD Boxing’s Rob Tebbutt of Parker. “He’s the ex-WBO world champion. He’s very skillful and he’s been in the game a long time. He is going to be the most rounded, he’s got a bit of everything. He’s very skillful. He can punch a bit. He can take a shot. It’s going to be a hard fight.”
Joyce has been the number-one WBO contender ever since Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13KOs) dethroned Anthony Joshua to claim the unified WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight crown last September 24. Usyk earned a repeat win on August 20 in Saudi Arabia, the rematch contractually enforced by Joshua and also with Joyce patiently waiting out the winner.
The 36-year-old Londoner has come to grips with the reality that his shot at the crown won’t come until the first quarter of 2023 at the earliest. The wait could be even longer if the sport first gets an undisputed championship showdown between Usyk and lineal/WBC champion Tyson Fury (32-0-1, 23KOs).
Joyce is doing his part to remain active. He only recently returned to the ring on July 2, scoring a fourth-round knockout of the normally durable Christian Hammer. The fight was his first in nearly a year, the extended break spent recovering from injuries as he is now back at full strength.
It spoke volumes that Joyce was willing to face Parker on the heels of a 49-week inactive stretch. It’s equally impressive that he still wants to move forward with the crossroads showdown with a title shot looming overhead, even with their fight carrying a rematch clause.
“It’s smart business. It’s a risky fight,” admitted Joyce, who also owns knockout wins over current secondary WBA titlist Daniel Dubois and former title challenger Carlos Takam. “I’m the mandatory for the WBO title. I could have waited around while fighting someone else that’s not quite on that level. Just an easy fight until I get my shot early next year.
“I want to stay prepared and also give entertainment for the fans. It’s number one versus number two. I keep banging on about that and I’m looking forward to it.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox