By Alan Hubbard
Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren, who as a youngster once worked in Smithfield Market, is back in the business of selling top quality beef. His surprise acquisition under his promotional stewardship of the Rio Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce, now unbeaten in eight pro fights, all by ko, means he has the best heavyweight quartet in boxing.
Jumping Joe joins Tyson Fury, Daniel Dubois and Nathan Gorman, all ready to mix and match it with the best in the world – and ultimately with his new stable companions.
Internecine warfare looms in the Queensberry camp over the coming years, which can only be good for the ringside punters as well as BT viewers.
All four, in different ways, are fascinating fan-friendly characters but Joyce has a special talent that is unique in boxing.
At 6ft 6in and 17 stones he is a true noble artist, as much a dab hand with the paint brush as he is with a left hook.
Outside the ring he is something of a gentle giant, admitting he prefers daubing paint on canvas rather than splattering the noses of opponents, though he hopes his proficiency with the palette will help him realise his dream of opening his own studio and holding an exhibition of his work.
The 33-year-old south Londoner who has a 2-1 University degree in fine arts obviously paints a pretty good picture in the ring. As an amateur, he went into the Havana backyard of the Cuban champion Lenier Pero and defeated him and as GB’s successor to Anthony Joshua in Rio he lost a bitterly disputed decision in the super-heavyweight final, to Frenchman Tony Yoka, who as a pro has been given a year’s ban for missing drugs tests.
Joyce, whose trademark victory salute is a backwards flip and cartwheel in the ring, is an intelligent, fascinating figure, who mixes real art with the noble art, saying his role models are Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Picasso and Van Gogh.
It is certainly bizarre, to say the least, to discover a pugilist who can chat as keenly about the work of another of his heroes, the American Jean-Michel Basqiat, famed exponent of Neo-Expressionism and Primitism who died aged 27 from a heroin overdose, as he does about slipping a jab.
His love of art has been inherited from his parents, father Philip, a Scots-born Irishman, and his mother Marvel, whose ancestry is Nigerian. “Dad painted and mum was good at pottery,” he says. “They both loved art and I really got into it at school where I had good teachers who encouraged me to do an Arts Foundation degree at university.”
His own personal favourite work, produced in a small studio at the south London flat where he lives with his mum , is the lifesize portrait in oils of Ali.“What I used to do at first was draw in pencil but now I go straight to the brush. I’ve had offers for the Ali picture but I don’t want to part with it at the moment though one day I might put it up at auction.
“The idea of photo-realism is to make the painting more interesting than the photo you are working from.”
He has also produced portraits of Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, tennis’s Williams sisters and Beyonce (”though that one’s a bit dodgy”) but says his preference is for the abstract and symbolic. “I really like Picasso. His early work was amazingly accurate before he turned to symbolism.”
The former ABA champion and European bronze medallist who won Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow last year, Joyce was a late starter in boxing. The artist who was also a martial artist in karate and king fu, had a decent rugby career as a teenage flanker and second row forward with Rossyln Park and worked as a lifeguard, swimming and diving instructor.
He was also into athletics at Middlesex University but an Achilles injury halted his progress as a long jumper and triple jumper. His boxing career only took off at 22 after he wandered into the University gym and started punching the bag before being invited to spar. “Boxing immediately grabbed me. I knew I could be good at it. What appealed to me was that it has so many aspects, so many different training regimes, and the discipline it instills. And when you win – wow! You get such a high from having your arm lifted.”
Joyce joined his local club Earlsfield ABC and progressed to the GB squad in at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield pre-2012, though he was the super-heavyweight shadow boxer to Joshua, with whom he regularly sparred. “We get on well but every time I’m mentioned, it is in the same breath as him. It would be nice to be recognised in my own right.” He may be 33 but luckily for him heavyweight boxing doesn’t suffer from ageism these days, with the top men now reaching their prime in their thirties. His progress has obviously been noted by Frank Warren who says:”He seems to have great talent.”
Obviously for painting as well as punching. But Joyce has put the brushes and easel on hold, insisting:
“Boxing comes first for now so the aim is simply to keep winning and maintain my unbeaten record. But my ultimate ambition is to be able to afford a large studio and hold my own exhibition.
“Though I am concentrating on boxing at the moment when my body can’t take any more punishment I can fall back on my art to because I will still be able to lift a brush.”
Joyce makes his Queensberry debut at the Lamex Stadium, home of Stevenage FC on May 18 when he faces the highly-experienced former world title challenger, the Russian giant Alexander Ustinov live on BT Sport.
The 6ft 7.5″ Russian provides a tall order for the Joyce in the chief supporting contest to Billy Joe Saunders challenging for the vacant WBO Interim world super middleweight title against Shefat Isufi.
Joyce, who won the WBA Gold title in his last fight against former world champion Bermane Stiverne in February, having previously become Commonwealth and WBA Continental champion and is mandatory for British, European and WBA regular world title challenges.
He recognises that still lacking in his fistic armoury is a really big punch. “I like to think my way through a fight and use my ringcraft but it’s something I’m working on
“A lot of heavyweights are big and strong but they cannot match me for work rate or the number of punches I throw. They get tired after the first three or four rounds and that works in my favour.”
The bright lights and big money surely will beckon if he paints a golden picture in his next few fights and at the moment the artist informally known as JJ seems more interested in visiting Las Vegas than the Louvre.
Clearly, this ring Rembrandt is no ordinary Joe. So move over AJ, here comes JJ. Tickets can be purchased via borotickets.co.uk and are priced as below:
£250 – Hospitality £150 – Pitch £100 – Pitch £75 – Pitch £50 – Stand £40 – Stand