Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker set logic aside to turn back the ancient boxing clock

On Saturday night in Manchester, Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker will be in one of the very best heavyweight fights to take place in Britain for many years.

Joyce and Parker are both in the world’s top 10, both waiting for a championship fight but have instead, against all logic, agreed to fight each other. It is a truly rare event in the muddled business of boxing and one that they have agreed to on a voluntary basis and not under orders from one of the sanctioning bodies.

Joyce is unbeaten in 14 professional fights since losing in the Olympic final in 2016; Parker once held the WBO title and he has only lost to the very best. Parker has never been stopped and Joyce has knocked out 13 of the men he has beaten. I have no idea why these two are fighting – it is a joy.

Please, forget all talk of the oddly passive Parker that cold night in Cardiff against Anthony Joshua in 2018, the night the New Zealander lost the WBO belt. And forget the slender win over Andy Ruiz Jr to win the title in 2016. Parker is a different beast now, a dangerous fighter, a hungry man. He is a man with belief and he is fresh from a war with Derek Chisora ​​last December. It was a rematch and Parker dominated.

Parker is working with Andy Lee, who is half of the team that transformed Tyson Fury, and their relationship is blossoming; Parker looked like a totally different fighter against Chisora. He was aggressive and relentless, desperate for a quick finish. Parker now lives in Morecambe with Fury, a switch of serious intent from his home in New Zealand.

During the last few years, Parker has met four men from the world’s top 10; Joyce has not yet met one. There is absolutely no suggestion or sign or rumor that Parker is nearing the end of his career. He is, at 30, actually seven years younger than Joyce. This is a tremendously dangerous fight for Joyce.

In 2018, at a sold-out O2 Arena, Parker lost a slugfest to Dillian Whyte. It was a brawl encouraged by a lot of dreams that the winner would get Joshua, who at the time was the world champion; both Whyte and Parker had lost their unbeaten records to Joshua. In the fight, Parker was bundled over in the second round and dropped heavily in the ninth. Parker had previously used his great chin as part of his defense. However, with just 34 seconds left in the 12th and last round, Whyte tumbled over hurt, dazed and seemingly finished. The truth is that both were tired, bruised and battered. Whyte somehow survived the last seconds to take the decision. It is a worrying reminder of exactly what Parker is capable of.

Parker during his 2018 slugfest with Dillian Whyte

(Getty Images)

All of the facts and figures are disturbing markers for Joyce; the fight is a remarkable and rare risk. “Why has Joe taken it?” Parker asked in August. It is a good question. Joyce’s answer is commendable: “The best have to beat the best.” The rest of that pithy sentence could very well be something like: but not in the modern heavyweight business, where opportunity comes to those who wait and have powerful brokers battling for what they rarely deserve. Obviously, Joyce’s version is a better soundbite.

The winner will in theory be in a strong position with the WBO, one of the four main sanctioning bodies, who will mandate a fight against their champion. However, Oleksandr Usyk, their champion, might fancy a fight with Tyson Fury next May; the WBO will not want to miss that cash-cow party. Still, it’s a nice idea and – bizarrely – Saturday’s fight is now for the WBO’s interim heavyweight title.

Joyce last fought in July, knocking out Christian Hammer in Round 4

(Getty Images)

The introduction of interim titles was once a good idea to keep a belt active if a champion had an injury, but Usyk defended his title about 40 days ago. Still, nobody can complain if the price for a great fight is yet another piece of unnecessary waist jewellery.

A Joyce win over 12 rounds would be fantastic and a Joyce stoppage would send a serious message to the rest of the boxing community. Parker has the power, the experience, form and chin to beat Joyce. It really is a risk, a tough fight for both at a time when just about every leading contender in every single weight division is taking the easy route. Joyce and Parker deserve respect for breaking with tradition, turning the ancient boxing clock back and agreeing to fight.

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