The only direction is forward for Joe Joyce.

On the heels of a career-best 10th round knockout of Daniel Dubois last November, the 35-year old Joyce (12-0, 11KOs) is now being groomed for the title stage in 2021. An aggressive schedule is already being planned by promoter Frank Warren, beginning with a potential clash with unbeaten former World cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13KOs).

“We are working on the moment, Usyk and Joe Joyce,” Warren told IFL TV’s Umar Ahmed on Monday of the possible fight. “The WBO are willing to make that an interim title fight so we are working hard to make that happen. It’s one of the fights we’re working on with Joe.”

Sources inform that both camps have already entered such talks, which are currently in the preliminary stage. The stakes could ultimately dictate Usyk’s level of interest, given his current position as the mandatory challenger to the WBO title currently held by unified WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO champ Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22KOs).

Joyce soared towards the top of the WBO and WBC heavyweight ratings following his breakout win over Dubois in their memorable battle of unbeaten rising contenders. It was a significant step up for the 2016 Olympic Silver medalist from London, who one year prior outlasted former title challenger Bryant Jennings in a 12-round decision, the July 2019 clash marking the lone time Joyce has been extended the distance as a pro.

The win over Dubois came with the intention of eventually challenging for a heavyweight title in 2021. That could prove problematic, as WBC/Lineal champion Tyson Fury and Joshua are in advanced talks for a titanic showdown which all parties involved—including Warren, Fury’s co-promoter—hope to stage in the first half of the year.

Joshua carries the baggage of an overdue mandatory title defense owed to Usyk, who emerged as the number-one WBO heavyweight contender upon moving up from cruiserweight in 2019. Two fights have followed, including a 12-round decision win over veteran gatekeeper and former title challenger Derek Chisora last Halloween.

Usyk has since insisted that his next fight will be for the WBO heavyweight crown, regardless of whether it comes versus Joshua or in a vacant title fight. A fight with the promise of an upgrade or a straightaway shot at the Fury-Joshua winner could remedy the solution—provided he survive the challenge of the naturally bigger 6’6” Joyce.

“The WBO have said they’d like to do that fight as [an interim title fight],” notes Warren. “We certainly don’t have any objection and I don’t believe Usyk would either.

“It puts the winner–hopefully Joe—in a tremendous position. It puts them in with the winner of the two fights with Tyson and AJ. They can vacate or they can defend the WBO belt against Joe, or Usyk if he pulls through.” 

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox