Reverse The Juggernaut: Joe Joyce Must Avoid Becoming The Next Dillian Whyte

Joyce can't afford to be British boxing's next nearly man
07:00, 18 Sep 2023

In a heavyweight division coloured by caution, Joe Joyce really will fight anyone. He’s beaten three men who have held a portion of the world heavyweight championship. A further three of his opponents have challenged for world title belts. ‘Juggernaut’ has held the British, Commonwealth, European and WBO ‘interim’ heavyweight titles. All this in a pro career that has taken in just 16 fights. That’s not to mention his Olympic silver medal that predated his fine pro career.

But for many that is not enough. Joyce lost his last outing, his first ever professional defeat, to fellow Olympian Zhilei Zhang. It matters little to the peanut gallery of social media that Zhang is ranked as the fourth best heavyweight on the planet by The Ring. Joyce lost and thus he is a fraud. The public cry out when they feel a boxer hasn’t faced anyone of worth. But those same fans are the first to turn when a fighter loses. Even one like Joyce, who has been matched tough throughout his career.


This Saturday, Joyce acts to erase the ‘1’ in his 15-1 record. The likeable Londoner goes one-on-one with Zhang to try and reclaim his place as WBO interim champion and nominal mandatory to full titleist, unified WBO, WBA, IBF and The Ring champion Oleksandr Usyk.

Joyce’s plight mirrors that of Dillian Whyte. ‘The Body Snatcher’ racked up wins over a murderer’s row of world-ranked contenders. The likes of Lucas Browne, Oscar Rivas, Joseph Parker and Robert Helenius were defeated as Whyte manoeuvred himself into mandatory contention for the WBC title. A legal battle over a reversed drug test ruling saw him removed and reinstated as challenger. By the time the wrangling was done, Whyte was knocked out by Alexander Povetkin and lost his mandatory slot.

He would earn it back, smashing the Russian in a rematch. But by then it was too late. Whyte was not the fighter he once was when he faced Tyson Fury for the WBC belt. By then he had waited 1,634 since first landing the WBC’s top spot in the rankings. But the ‘Gypsy King’ ended his dreams in minutes with a sixth-round TKO.


Joyce’s climb has been eerily similar. While he has not had to endure an anti-doping investigation, he has been seen as the “next” challenger for years now. Despite being accepted as next in line for a shot, like Whyte none of the champions seem willing to fight him. Like Dillian, he suffered a stoppage defeat while waiting for his chance. 

Against Zhang he will hope to emulate Whyte. ‘The Body Snatcher’ put himself right back on track by demolishing Povetkin in the rematch. Joyce would certainly take such an outcome against Zhang were it offered. But if he is successful, he must avoid the malaise Whyte has suffered since. 

Whyte has not entered a good performance since that Povetkin rematch back in 2021. His challenge to Fury was feeble. Whyte’s sole fight since was a controversial decision win over Jermaine Franklin where he looked like a shadow of the fighter he once was. This rise and fall could be used as a roadmap for Joyce as he looks to rebuild.

It must rankle that, as he prepares to avenge a defeat, Joyce has had to watch Daniel Dubois fight Oleksandr Usyk for the unified world title. Joyce stopped Dubois in 2020 and has fought at a consistently higher level than ‘Dynamite’ in the ensuing years. Dubois was getting up from a trio of knockdowns courtesy of lightly-regarded Kevin Lerena while Joyce was battering ex-champion Joseph Parker. Yet one man has fought arguably the best heavyweight in the world in a pay-per-view bout and the other hasn’t.

But at the age of 37, Joyce doesn’t have time to wonder what might have been. He cannot let the bitterness consume him. ‘Juggernaut’ must not allow himself to become another Dillian Whyte. The mission is clear. Beat Zhang and reestablish his credentials as one of the best heavyweights on the planet. Joyce has flown close to the sun by fighting anyone and everyone. If he comes through against ‘Big Bang’ on Saturday, perhaps discretion is the better part of valour. After all, with the rest of the heavyweight division waiting on the sidelines for big fights, why shouldn’t ‘Juggernaut’ join them?

joyce to beat zhang: EVENS*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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