Big Joe Joyce has a good opponent in front of him at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. Bryant Jennings (24-3-0) has enough top-level experience to test any up and coming, heavyweight. His losses to Wladimir Klitschko and Luis Ortiz mark him as a heavyweight with limits, but it is probably his 12th round stoppage loss to transplanted Columbian Oscar Rivas that convinced Joyce's management to pitch their man in against the Philadelphian.
In another 7 days, we will find out if Rivas can step up to world level when he faces WBC No1 contender Dillian Whyte at the same venue in a match that providing he wins, would make him the mandatory contender to Deontay Wilder.
The question Joyce's management had to ask themselves when looking for his next opponent, was if Rivas beat a prime Jennings or if the 34-year-old former world title challenger was past his prime.
Jennings has shown plenty of ambition when promoting the Joyce fight. He feels that he has plenty left in the tank and that he can take Joyce, known as "The Juggernaut" into the later rounds and test the big man's stamina and resolve.
Jennings's record is full of good fighters. Guys that had very few loses, prospects such as Poland's Artur Szpilka who Jennings beat by a final round stoppage when Szpilka was 16-0 back in 2014. In his next fight, he won a split decision over Ireland based Cuban Mike Perez, 20-0-1 on the undercard to Gennady Golovkin vs Daniel Geale at Madison Square Garden. Jennings was a top prospect who is now seen as a veteran that still has ambitions to fight for a world title.
As boxing fans, we have to hope that Jennings can use his experience and athleticism to frustrate Joyce with constant lateral movement and make him work harder than he ever has before. If he can do this while scoring with fast counters he could take a lead into the second half of the fight and make things interesting. He cannot be trapped against the ropes for long as Joe has heavy hands and Jennings can be hurt by big punchers as we saw in the Klitschko, Ortiz and Rivas fights.
It's always tough to travel to the other man's backyard and challenge him when he is in the ascendancy. It is also nearly impossible to win on points in a close fight, but Jennings knows this is last chance saloon time for him. Back to back loses to Rivas and Joyce would put him into the "trial horse" bracket for up and comers.
At 33-years-old Joyce has to move fast with his career. His win over former WBC champion Bermaine Stiverne showed glimpses of things to come. The past his best 40-year-old still knew how to survive for 6 rounds and threw plenty of winging rights and lefts, some of which landed with authority, but Joe kept pressing and wore down Stiverne.
Criticism that Joyce is slow and cumbersome is the result of never being in a ring with such a boxer. Joe is never out of his punching range for very long, his jab is his main tool and it catches experienced fighters flush, it is not slow. But it is when he takes that half a step further into range and throws clusters of punches that he excels. Unlike many heavyweights, Joyce throws high quantity combinations that are hard to avoid. If the first 3 miss, at least one or two will get you.
Fair criticism would be that Joe isn't too hard to hit, trouble is, you have to throw while he is punching which is not an easy thing to do as Joyce's punches hurt. He does walk onto shots and that could be his undoing somewhere down the line, but up till this moment in time, no-one has managed to seriously hurt "The Juggernaut."
The first 3 or 4 rounds could be extremely interesting if Jennings comes out with a "Make him miss, make him pay" game plan. He has more experience at this level, and I expect him to move and pivot out the way of Joyce's shots for a while at least. If he can land with his counters then we will have a real fight on our hands, if not, it will only be a matter of time before big Joe mows down another foe.