British heavyweight boxing is seemingly in good health with Tyson Fury slated for a world title fight and Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua continuing to bulldoze his way effortlessly towards the top of the rankings.
Another talented Brit is up next for Joshua in the shape of Dillian Whyte, while ex-heavyweight title holder David Haye is still flirting with the idea of a comeback.
– Abu Dhabi Warriors: Buentello triumphs over Sokoudjou
This week, however, one fighter with a significantly lower profile begins his quest to bring more glory to the ranks of the British big men.
Joe ‘JJ’ Joyce, a 6ft 6in, 17 stone giant, is major medal hope for the British team which has travelled to Doha for the AIBA World Championships.
In total, 260 contenders from 74 countries have gathered in Qatar as amateur boxing’s signature event is hosted in the Middle East for the first time. The super heavyweights, including Joyce, get started on Wednesday, with their gold medal match providing the competition’s grand finale on October 15.
And if Joyce, 30, is to make it all the way then he has some serious competition. That includes the No.1 ranked Kazakh Ivan Dychko, who many felt got a raw deal in losing to Joshua in the semi-finals at London 2012.
With Joyce ranked seventh by the AIBA, it’s clear he will have to upset favoured opponents if he is to triumph, but the added bonus of sealing qualification for the Rio.
Olympics is clearly a huge incentive for a man who doesn’t fit the stereotypical perception of a hulking heavyweight contender.
Joyce might look the part as a punching powerhouse, the skin around his left eye damaged after countless stitches, and a chest sticking out like the front of an armoured vehicle, but away from the pain game you’ll find a cultured individual, very much the gentle giant. And while he likes to decorate canvasses with the bodies of fallen foes, he is in fact just as adept with a brush in his hand.
“I’ve always loved painting, so I’ve got a university degree in Fine Arts,” he explains. “At some stage I want my own exhibition, or even open up a gallery, but for now my focus is on the boxing.”
Growing up in the London suburb of Putney, Joyce was always into sports, and dreamed of being able to compete in the Olympics.
At an early age, he started out with martial arts, but soon pursued a career in athletics, namely long and high jump – a career that followed him into his early 20s, but ended abruptly due to a newly discovered love for boxing.
“At the time I was struggling to get the results that I wanted in athletics, so I took a break, and went down to the gym to basically try to train really hard for a while. I was a late starter, and didn’t really start boxing until I was maybe 22 or 23 years old, but I enjoyed it and wanted to give it a real go,” he says.
“When I switched to boxing it was like a different world to me. I kept on winning, kept on improving, and before I knew it I was in the Great Britain squad. Here, I am much closer than ever before to making my dream come true.”
— Joseph Joyce (@JoeJoyce_1) October 3, 2015
Two years ago at the AIBA Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Joyce was upset by unheralded Algerian Hamza Beguerni, but he rebounded in style to win gold medals at both the 2014 Commonwealth Games and also the inaugural European Games in Baku this year.
Should he indeed prevail in Doha, he would add to a strangely meagre collection of British successes at the World Championships, where then-lightweight Frankie Gavin’s 2007 success stands alone as the country’s sole gold medal.
“We’ve always been a proud boxing nation, but it’s been a long time since Britain last won gold in the Worlds,” adds Joyce.
“I feel strong, ready and if I can perform to my potential, I should be able to get that gold medal and qualify for Rio [2016 Olympic Games].
It will be hard though and since AIBA changed the rules so that boxers actually had to qualify through official confederation events, it will most likely be the most competitive World Championships ever.”
A video posted by Joseph Joyce (@jobeyone1) on Oct 4, 2015 at 8:20am PDT
The popularity of MMA proved its strength amongst UAE residents on Saturday night as a sizeable and raucous crowd turned out in the capital for the third instalment of the Abu Dhabi Warriors.
– White Collar DXB Diary: Matching Mayweather
– Fight Club: UFC has heavyweight problem
– Fight Club: Joshua is a champion in waiting
A card of 10 fights was both brilliant and bloody, with a variety of styles, fighters and matches on show to appease all types of fight fans.
American Paul Buentello won the showpiece event of the night, beating Cameroon’s Rameau Sokoudjou with a brutal flurry of attacks in the third and final round to claim the heavyweight title.
One of the most torturous matches was the penultimate fight of the night, Russia’s Alexander Sarnavskiy and Canada’s Jesse Ronson going toe-to-toe for 15 straight action-packed minutes in a thrilling lightweight bout.
A bloodied Ronson was cut several times during the fight, as his Russian opponent took a unanimous decision after the final bell.
France’s Karl Amoussou looked in trouble against Russian Abdulmajid Magomedov in the early stages of their welterweight encounter but a cleverly-executed armbar while in a tight spot immediately had the 28-year-old tapping out.
Amoussou had entered the ring to House of Pain’s classic ‘Jump Around’ anthem but it was his opponent who found himself in a world of pain. Waylon Lowe was in complete control of his fight with Montenegro’s Vaso Bakocevic, who just could not counteract the American’s physical presence as Lowe won their battle to claim the lightweight title.
Buentello, 41, was the oldest fighter on the card, but overcame fatigue as his bout wore on to unleash a devastating combination on Sokoudjou that left the 31-yearold floundering.
Buentello told the crowd after his win: “Please come back in December. I’ll be here and I’ll remember every single one of your faces.
“I’m going to put another show on for you and I can’t wait to come back and show you what warrior spirit is all about.” Fans can also expect to see Sarnavskiy again in two months’ time.
“I would like to thank everybody for their support. Of course I would like to come back and fight in Abu Dhabi,” he said, who extended his impressive MMA record to 31 wins and just three losses. Amoussou, 29, said the result of his fight was never in doubt.
“I was dominated for a time but the truth is on the floor no one dominates me and I was not worried for a second. It was just a matter of time,” he said.
An emotional Lowe is already looking ahead to coming back to the UAE and heaped praise on the Warriors’ organisation for all that they do behind the scenes.
“I can do more next time,” said Lowe. “This means the world to me and I just want to thank you guys for being here. There’s no other motivation to fight for. I want to come back and make you guys proud.
“Abu Dhabi Warriors really look after their fighters, it’s amazing and that’s what I tell everybody.”
Sport360’s Online Managing Editor Mark Lomas is trying to channel his inner Joe Calzaghe as a contestant on White Collar DXB. Read about his experience here.
Believe it or not, I have the same boxing win percentage as Floyd Mayweather. Sure, ‘Money’ may have won 48 more fights than me but, still, it’s got a good ring to it, right?
– #360boxing: Floyd’s farewell fitting, for wrong reasons
– Mayweather equals record with unanimous decision
– VIDEO: Mayweather – I’m always 10 steps ahead
– VIDEO: Mayweather Sr – Marciano fought bums
Last week, my first ever boxing match was broadcast on OSN 4. Unfortunately this wasn’t because I have signed a multi-million pound, multi-fight deal with the satellite broadcaster (though don’t rule it out in the future), but because I am a contestant on Dubai-based reality TV show White Collar DXB. The premise is that two teams of eight, one Blue and one Red, train for eight weeks before facing off on a final fight night. The twist being that a team of eight reserves are waiting in the wings to take their spots.
After two gruelling days of trials – read all about it in the first diary entry – I was picked for the show, clearly because they needed someone whose ability to produce a soundbite was sharper than his footwork. “I’m Mark ‘The Lumberjack’ Lomas, and I’ll chop you down.” Awful I know, but I did always love WWE as a youngster and Bret Hart would surely have been proud of that one.
Placed on the Blue Team, KO Gym in Dubai Marina has been my second home for the past few weeks. It’s a great atmosphere, a real family environment fostered by a real family. Samoan Zack Taumafai, ably assisted by his daughter Dee and son Vic, arrived in the UAE in 2005 and is a veteran when it comes to White Collar; Zack has trained wannabes from all walks of life over the past decade in Dubai.
He is very much a man of the old school. Your ribs feeling sore? “Ice them”. Head hurts? “Ice it”. Arm no longer attached to your body? “Stick it in some ice.” In all seriousness though, Zack is a great character and an even better coach. He calls a spade a spade and promotes loyalty, discipline and sportsmanship. The excesses of modern boxing, such as Mayweather’s suitcases full of cash, are abhorrent to him, as they are to the many who dedicate their lives to the sport at its grassroots.
It turns out boxing is tough. Who’d have thought it? With two sessions a day – one at 6am, another at 6.30pm – three days a week, our motley crew was thrown in at the deep end. Before we started, most of us associated the word ‘jab’ with a hospital, ‘straight’ with a ruler and ‘hook’ with a damn fine film starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffmann. Now, this boxing lexicon is drilled into us. When drifting off to sleep, we’re counting combos not sheep.
It was a tough routine to settle into but surprisingly, settle in is exactly what we did – the extra pressures of the TV cameras ensuring no-one wanted to be seen giving less than their all in every session. After a week of hard graft, however, we lost the first challenge, an obstacle course at Wadi Adventure in Al Ain. I’m still having nightmares about the mess I made of climbing the cargo net. It meant that two of us would be chosen to fight to keep our place on the team. I was one of them.
It wasn’t that surprising. In our sparring sessions in week one, I’d shown an unfathomable propensity for lifting my knees when someone threw punches at me. It bore little resemblance to boxing. A fear of being struck and a feeling of guilt when making contact with an opponent’s face was crippling, leaving me in a sort of pugilistic purgatory, in which I neither wanted to hit nor be hit.
— nomad. (@nomadmediatv) September 24, 2015
This approach left me with a black eye and a bruised ego in just one session, and I seriously thought about quitting, such was the feeling of uselessness. But, like any good reality TV contestant, I opted instead to strap myself back on the emotional rollercoaster and plugged away at improving both my fitness and technique.
Saturday came quickly and as I ungracefully stepped into the ring –Prince Naseem would have been ashamed – the nerves and adrenaline coursed through me. My opponent was Mohammed, a mighty Palestinian weighing in at around 125kg. For once in my life, I had a speed advantage over someone, but in terms of strength, it was no contest.
The fight itself was a bit of a blur. Zack shouted instructions from my corner and I tried to execute them as best I could. The gameplan was to keep moving, to tire Mohamed out – kind of like the Viper vs the Mountain from Game of Thrones, only (hopefully) without the grisly eye-gouging part. He landed a couple of huge haymakers, his gloves feeling like hammers against my ribs. I survived the first round and actually landed a few shots, remarkably winning the round in the eyes of the judges despite my battered diaphragm seemingly telling a different story.
In round two, the confidence grew and Mohammed was given a standing eight count after my half-decent combo connected. In the third round, I knocked him down. It was invigorating. I had knocked a fellow man to the ground. With my fist. Had the switch finally flicked? In fairness to Mohammed, whose heart is as big as his burly physique, he got up. But by that stage, the result was a certainty.
At the end of the third round, the judge raised my hand in what was a moment to rival the few noteworthy sporting achievements I have had in my life. Hole in one: check. Finish the London Marathon: check. Win a boxing match: check. All the emotion, all the doubts – it had all been worth it for that sweet moment. The Lumberjack, 1 and 0.
White Collar DXB airs at 20.00 GST every Wednesday on OSN 4.