Age might just be a number but 37 is a hell of a time to be in a younger man’s position.
2016 Olympic silver medalist Joe Joyce (14-0, 13 KO) is the number one contender to the WBO heavyweight crown. That makes him a number one contender to Oleksandr Usyk, one of the toughest assignments in boxing.
So far, while the sample size may be limited, Joyce looks like one of the game’s toughest competitors. At 6’6, often over 260 lbs., fans have already seen ample evidence of a man with the chin and patience to strike fear in the hearts of many a big man. While few would expect him today to beat Usyk, or lineal king Tyson Fury, winning is the path for him to get his chance to try. If he isn’t the quickest heavyweight in the world, he might be the rising contender in need of the quickest moves.
Joyce will make his next move Saturday (ESPN, 1 PM EST).
Fifteen fights into a career and facing a former titlist is a good spot. At closer to 40 than 30, it’s also a tenuous one. Of all the top heavyweights in the world right now yet to receive a title shot, there might not be one who can afford a loss less.
Contrast that with former WBO beltholder Joseph Parker (30-2, 21 KO). The 30-year old should be in the flush of his prime. The winner of six in a row since a wild brawl with Dillian Whyte, including two straight against veteran trial horse Dereck Chisora, Parker is the WBO’s second ranked heavyweight.
It’s not a bad spot but heading into this weekend Parker can feel like he’s been slightly lost in the shuffle. Once a prospect who created a groundswell of buzz with his speed and power, including in this corner, Parker has proven a steady presence at heavyweight but not one who has ever really turned heads near the top level.
Parker got the benefit of the doubt in a close fight with Andy Ruiz to win a belt, seemed lost in a lopsided unification loss to Anthony Joshua, and skated on the edge of another defeat in the first fight with Chisora. Part of getting opportunities is positioning in sanctioning body rankings.
Another part is creating the sort of interest that makes champions see the economic upside in facing you. A win over Joyce this weekend would be a reminder to the world that Parker isn’t just still here.
It would be a reminder he’s still a player.
Parker needs this one bad.
So does Joyce.
In a field where the titles are and have been largely consolidated for a bit, it’s a best-case scenario for fans. While we might not have an undisputed champion, Tyson and Usyk narrow the lanes. There’s not an extra belt lying around on a relatively easier mark for fighters to try to position themselves toward. Title shots are being earned the right way right now and boxing benefits. Much as was the case a few weeks ago with Andy Ruiz-Luiz Ortiz, and as the case will be when Deontay Wilder faces Robert Helenius in October, we’re getting a quality clash between fighters who are taking risks to move up the line.
That it could be an interesting clash makes it all the better. Parker can be inconsistent but his edge in speed and experience could make him more willing to engage here. Joyce is coming to come at him and try to pound away. One of them is going to get their way.
One of them will satisfy the need for victory this weekend and the heavyweight division will have that much more clarity about where it’s headed when the dust settles.
Gennadiy Golovkin-Erislandy Lara appears to be where the WBA is going to make their demands for title consolidation. Both are past their best but that could make for a good scrap for fans…Floyd Mayweather will be in exhibition action this weekend. It’s good work if you can get it…Guessing Shakur Stevenson is a lightweight by this time next year. Top Rank has a good mix-and-match they can do with he, Vasyl Lomachenko, and world champion Devin Haney but it could get difficult to stay in-house if we get Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia…If Saul Alvarez doesn’t go back after Dmitry Bivol at light heavyweight, his most deserving contender at super middleweight is David Benavidez. As the undisputed super middleweight champion, that should matter.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org