Parker and Joyce play the elimination game in Manchester

Top contenders Joyce and Parker go the traditional route and fight for the right to challenge the very best, writes Matt Christie

FOR many reasons, Saturday night’s heavyweight contest between Putney’s Joe Joyce and Morecambe’s favourite New Zealander, Joseph Parker, is one to savour.

Primarily because it stands for the very essence of sporting competition. It highlights, too, what happens when there are not numerous ‘champions’ to aim at.  Rather than sitting pretty and waiting for a shot, or grumbling that they deserve one, Joyce and Parker – ranked five and four respectively – are getting busy against each other. And that’s the way it should be. The winner will be the most deserving contender in the division and should be rewarded as such, regardless of the marketing pull of former belt-holders like Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.

Almost as good is the fact this is a joint promotion between two of the three top promoters in the country. Frank Warren, the lead promoter here, represents Joyce while Ben Shalom, whose attitude since rising to prominence has been refreshing, is happy to play second fiddle for the good of Parker, whom he promotes. Without that harmony between two rival promoters (and broadcasters – Shalom is with Sky Sports and Warren is with BT Sport, who televise this one), contests like this would not be possible and is nearly always the reason for their failure to occur.

Another reason to admire this matchup is the fact it’s exceptionally hard to call. Unbeaten Joyce is the hard-hitting, deceptively effective and aptly-nicknamed “Juggernaut” who has barely taken a backward step while stopping 13 of 14 professional opponents. Parker, quicker of hand and feet, brings an impressive CV that boasts experience against Joshua, Dillian Whyte, Andy Ruiz, Derek Chisora and Hughie Fury.

There’s no guarantee that this will be a barnburner, however. Parker has been in his share of stinkers and Joyce isn’t quite in Wilder’s or Joshua’s league when it comes to the potential for drop-of-the-hat drama. Regardless, there are questions we have about both combatants that should at least be partly answered in what will almost certainly be engrossing, even if it doesn’t leave us on the edge of our seats.

Though we know Joyce could probably walk from Lands End to John O’Groats without taking so much as a comfort break, we’re yet to see evidence that he can cope when faced with a boxer of Parker’s ability. The New Zealander is no James Toney but, nonetheless, his approach will be more elegant than the efforts mustered by Daniel Dubois, Carlos Takam, Bermane Stiverne and Christian Hammer when faced with that marauding, relentless pressure that Joyce brings. The closest we’ve seen to Joe in a chess match was against Bryant Jennings and though the Londoner won a deserved decision after 12, it was perhaps a warning to those in the Joyce business that their investment was far from the finished product.

Whether he’ll ever be ‘finished’ is perhaps a more worthwhile consideration. How much better can he really get at the age of 36? Moreover, how much better does he really need to be? After almost every contest we hear Joyce readily admitting that he should move his head more and his defence should be tighter but, after working with artful coaches like Abel Sanchez, Adam Booth and, most regularly, Ismael Salas, it seems unlikely we’re suddenly going to see Joyce morph into a cross between Willie Pep and Sonny Liston. Joe Joyce is Joe Joyce, and what Joyce does while being himself, largely without a care in the world, has served him well in both the amateur and professional codes so far. That comfort in his own skin is to be admired; one only has to look at the recent problems faced by Anthony Joshua as evidence for what can happen when a boxer gets too bogged down in trying to become the perfect all-rounder.

Joyce may look beatable, yet no one has come close to beating him, and he does what he does very well indeed. And for those who are waiting for that day to come when he gets ‘exposed’ it’s worth examining various performances again, namely the night in late 2020 when he himself exposed another unbeaten British heavyweight, Daniel Dubois, the pre-fight favourite. Steven Broughton, the coach who has been a mainstay in Joyce’s development, was excellent in the corner that night and kept Joyce as close to gameplan as he’s ever been. Dubois struggled to land more than one shot at a time, he found the jab of Joyce a painful nuisance and his head an oddly elusive target. “DD” simply could not get into any kind of rhythm and realised he was going to do himself a serious mischief if he continued to try.

Parker does not have the power of Dubois but he can certainly bang hard enough to get any heavyweight’s respect. He too has looked like a work in progress but, after 18 months of working under the sage guidance of Andy Lee, the 30-year-old might at last be psychologically equipped to be a real force in the division. He admits that he wasn’t sure if he truly belonged when facing Anthony Joshua back in 2018. And against Dillian Whyte the following year, Parker displayed too much respect before going all out for victory in the closing rounds. In the end, Whyte just about survived and won the decision. Even so, clues remain that Parker, though invigorated by the time he has spent with Tyson Fury over the last year,  may always struggle to get the best from himself.

In his two most recent bouts, both against Derek Chisora in May and December last year, we saw flashes of excellence and moments of uncertainty. In the rematch in particular, after hammering Chisora for long periods, he was somehow drawn into a gruelling slugfest against a rival who either stood and played possum or trundled forwards bowling over looping right hands. The success Chisora had with that approach should provide encouragement to Joyce, who has markedly more in the tank than a faded “Del Boy”.

At his best when he lets his fast hands go, Parker nonetheless still endures periods where he almost completely switches off. He coasts, he stands back, he waits too long. Whether that’s a consequence of uncertainty, concerns over his stamina, or merely trouble concentrating, it could cost him against a fighter like Joyce, who, in contrast, flicks a switch when the first bell sounds and goes into demonic auto-pilot until the contest is over. To beat Joyce, Parker will need to exhibit sound judgement throughout, without thinking too hard about what he’s doing.

Parker, a 6/4 underdog, is both effective and vulnerable in close. His right hook is an excellent weapon, it’s delivered quickly and accurately. The uppercut, too, is another tool that he deployed to good effect against Chisora and one he’ll look to land against come-forward fighters like Joyce. But the Londoner, two inches taller than Parker at 6ft 6ins, likes to fight tall, often leaving himself exposed, but rarely leaning in head-first like the squat Chisora. Parker, though an adept counter puncher, likes to dictate the pace and that is a luxury rarely afforded to Joyce opponents.

Both boxers can take a shot. Though Parker has been dropped by Chisora (a flash first round knockdown) and Whyte (twice) he found his feet and fought back. He can look uncomfortable when being bullied to the body, and in the midst of frutful exchanges, but his heart should not be questioned. We’re yet to see any evidence that Joyce can be hurt, as a professional at least, but it’s nonsensical to suggest he can’t be. In his most recent bout, when careless in the extreme, Joyce was stunned by Christian Hammer. That apparent nonchalance about taking punches might one day be his undoing, and it’s a trait not shared by Parker, who will instead look to hold or move away if the action gets too heated.

Joyce will keep motoring forward and be damned with the consequences whereas his opponent will put on the brakes, even when the fighter in front of him looks unsteady. That care, however, could result in Parker winning a boxing match – he’s the superior shot picker – if he chooses the right moments to punch, move and get out of trouble.

Ultimately, one feels, that this could come down to who can deliver in the trenches and who can keep hurling when the going gets tough. Joyce will surely force the pace and not allow Parker the time he so often needs. The Englishman, while close, will hammer the body, clump the back of the head, and fire punches to the head from unorthodox angles. Parker must find a way to get Joyce’s respect if he’s not to be ultimately overrun.

The feeling is that he’ll struggle to. We expect Parker to at times look like the boss, to score with eye-catching combinations and use his feet well. But ultimately we favour that forward motion of Joyce to force the away fighter out of his rhythm on too many occasions. A late stoppage for the Brit is not out of the question but we expect this one to go the full route. It might be scrappy at times, it probably won’t make anyone believe that either will go on to rule the world, but Joyce – after claiming a rough and tough but deserved decision win – will have earned his right to try.

The nonsensical interim WBO belt at stake, contested just one month after Usyk successfully defended the full fat version against Joshua, should only be regarded as a souvenir.

The undercard is packed and goes some way to justifying the PPV cost that punters will have to pay if they want to watch this on BT Sport Box Office.

Following her tight loss to Katie Taylor in April, excellent Puerto Rican southpaw Amanda Serrano, 42-2-1 (30), returns to featherweight to defend her WBC and WBO belts against Denmark’s unbeaten Sarah Mahfoud, 11-0 (3), who holds the IBF strap.

The 32-year-old Mahfoud is a solid stand-up boxer who is among the best in the world at 126lbs but the quality of opposition she’s faced to earn that status highlights the shallow pool of talent in most weight classes in the female code.

Serrano, a year older at 33, is levels above anyone Mahfoud has faced to date. But the underdog comes into this on the back of an impressive, albeit hard fought, win over Nina Meinke – like Serrano, a southpaw – in April. Serrano, however, is an altogether different proposition. The overwhelming favourite can bang so a stoppage win is plausible but Mahfoud looks tough enough to last the full 10 rounds, even if it’s unlikely she’ll win more than one or two of them.

Nottingham’s Ekow Essuman, 17-0 (7), could have his hands full when he defends his British and Commonwealth welterweight titles against Stockwell’s Samuel Antwi, 14-1 (6), the English champion. This is a well-matched domestic clash where Essuman will start as favourite but Antwi – a spiteful body puncher – can’t be written off.

Last time out, 33-year-old Essuman laboured to a 12-round points win over Darren Tetley on the Wembley undercard of Fury-Whyte and he’ll need to be sharper here. Antwi stopped Tetley in six rounds last year in arguably his finest showing. But the pick is for Essuman to return to his best form and win on the cards.

Belfast’s Anthony Cacace, 19-1 (7), is another who is in tough. The southpaw ends a 13-month layoff against Italy’s unbeaten Michael Magnesi, 21-0 (13). Magnesi is dangerous, particularly early, and a good puncher. Cacace will need to be at his best to win this one.

Further down the bill is a welcome step-up for Stoke-on-Trent ticket-seller, Nathan Heaney, 15-0 (6). Bolton’s Jack Flatley, 19-2-1 (4), certainly has the skills and smarts to score the upset but may lack the power to get Heaney’s respect. Regardless, if fit, motivated and able to stay out of trouble in the early rounds, Flatley is worth a punt to win this one on points.

THE VERDICT: Kudos to Joyce and Parker for agreeing to this excellent matchup.

The nonsensical interim WBO belt at stake, contested just one month after Usyk successfully defended the full fat version against Anthony Joshua, should only be regarded as a souvenir.

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