Heavyweights might mature older but it doesn’t mean they have forever. 

36-year old heavyweight contender Joe Joyce (13-0, 12 KO) has already done a lot to be proud of. The 6’6 Londoner polished off his amateur career with a 2016 Olympic silver medalist in a fight many thought he deserved to win against Tony Yoka. As a professional, he is unblemished if not incredibly active, already with wins over former titlist Bermane Stiverne and former title challenger Bryant Jennings. Joyce announced himself as a potentially serious contender when he stopped unbeaten Daniel Dubois in November 2020 but has only been in the ring once since.

He’s back this Saturday (ESPN+, 2:30 PM EST), main eventing the famed Wembley Arena.

Joyce will enter the ring recognized already as one of the consensus ten best heavyweights in the world according to global media. Sanctioning body rankings are, as always, less coherent as a gauge of merit (not that they intend to be about merit). Joyce isn’t in the current top ten of the WBA but rates #1 with the WBO, #2 with the WBC, and # 6 with the IBF.

34-year old opponent Christian Hammer (27-9, 17 KO) isn’t expected to be much of an impediment to those positions. Hammer has been stopped four times, most recently last October versus Hughie Fury. Joyce has a good chance to add his name to the list at number five.

What then?

That’s the tricky part.

Regardless of where he’s ranked, Joyce may be closer on paper to a shot at a title than he is in reality. 

The WBO, WBA, and IBF belts will be decided in a rematch between unified titlist Oleksandr Usyk and former titlist Anthony Joshua in August. Joyce could be next for the winner if…

There’s a real big if.

Regardless of public proclamations about his retirement, lineal heavyweight king Tyson Fury hasn’t made any real step to actually retire. The biggest step would be to vacate the WBC belt he won and defended against Deontay Wilder in the second and third battles of their memorable trilogy and held on to earlier this year with a win over Dillian Whyte. Fury has made clear he’s holding on to the green strap to see what shakes out. 

Educated guessing says Fury might face Usyk if Usyk defeats Joshua again this summer. The same guessing says it’s almost absurd to think Fury wouldn’t pursue unification if Joshua gets the other three belts back.

Fury-Joshua is one of the biggest fights in the world whether Joshua beats Usyk or not. It’s probably the biggest, richest global spectacle the sport can offer if it’s for all the marbles. At the very least, it would easily be the biggest UK fight in history, even if it landed in Saudi Arabia.

Sanctioning bodies enforce mandatories. They also grant exceptions, and there are few exceptions they embrace more readily than rich ones. 

Unification implications could mean Joyce is more than a year from a title shot, creating a very real possibility Joyce reaches the age of 38 before he finds out if he can replace Silver Medalist with Heavyweight Champion of the World as his highest accolade.

It doesn’t help that Joyce isn’t the sort of fighter anyone is dying to see on the other side of the ring. Joyce can look beatable but there are factors that make him a touch assignment. Joyce is big at regularly between 250 and 260 lbs., can punch, and takes a whale of a shot. While Joyce isn’t the quickest of hand or foot, the mental pressure his toughness creates and the stamina he’s shown to date are hard x-factors to game plan for.

Title chances could come sooner of course. If Fury didn’t opt to face a victorious Uysk, Usyk-Joyce would be an intriguing fight with echoes of their amateur days (Usyk defeated Joyce in the World Series of Boxing). 

All Joyce can do for now is keep winning. He can’t know when opportunity will knock any more than anyone else can. Holding position is the task at hand.

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com