Joe Joyce is no stranger to travelling around the world to seek out the best possible training. Here, in Las Vegas, while working with Cuban Ismael Salas, he speaks with Declan Taylor
THE temperate is in the 40s by the time Joe Joyce emerges through the sliding doors of the Las Vegas house he calls home and parks his considerable frame on a creaking wicker sofa in the back yard. The desert heat is stymied slightly by a glorified gazebo which provides a few blocks of precious shade if you sit in the correct spot. “The guy who owns the house built this himself,” Joyce says, gesturing up to the corrugated iron construction. “If it wasn’t for this you’d have to spend the whole time in the pool.”
Could be worse. But, although this might seem like a good spot for a holiday, it is only ever pure business when Joyce turns up in Nevada.
A few hours earlier, he had done the day’s road work up Red Rock Canyon, before the temperature ticked over from warm weather training to just plain old dangerous. Once this interview is finished he is straight over to spar at Ismael Salas’ gym. Between those regular slots on his training schedule, Joyce spends his life between the four walls of the house he shares with his strength & conditioning coach and two managers. Once you are a few miles away from The Strip, you really could be anywhere and the time difference can make a British boxer feel isolated.
“Mum is missing me being out here,” he says, only half joking. “She’s phoning me three times a day to check up on me. My dad and my girlfriend are missing me too and it’s tough for me because I have had to miss things like my friend’s wedding.
“But you have to be selfish to succeed in boxing and that means making lots of sacrifices to fulfill your dreams.”
But then again, Joyce has always liked to hit the road in the pursuit of excellence. Even before he started boxing he went to university in Sacramento when athletics was his passion. Then, once he had caught the bug at Earlsfield ABC, he went to both Cuba and China to train.
“I have always chosen to travel for training,” Joyce adds. “I have never feared that or shied away from it.
“I took myself to China to do Shaolin kungfu just after I graduated, it meant I actually missed the ceremony so I never threw my hat in the air or wore the gown, I used my last bit of student loan money to fly out to China, Deng Fen, four sessions a day of kung fu.
“It was a camp of foreigners who each had a trainer, we would run at 5am, then power trainer and then technique, sambo or wu-shu.
“Another one of my boxing coaches had also sent me to Cuba to stay with his brother and I trained there for 21 days. I came back and won the ABAs by beating Frazer Clarke and got on Team GB.”
This time around, Joyce has been in Vegas since early May in preparation for his clash with Christian Hammer on July 2. Amazingly it is only the Londoner’s second outing since stopping Daniel Dubois back in November 2020. Dubois, by the way, suffered serious eye damage that night and has still managed three fights since.
“Nothing seems to go my way,” he says. “I really haven’t had it the easy way, only ever the hard way. It builds character that way though, I’ll get there eventually.
“I’ll need a little holiday after the Hammer fight, a little bit of a holiday then straight back out here. I will have levelled up after fighting Hammer so I will want to put that into practice.
“Being out here has been good. It’s good to have some company and some support. It’s tough being in camp because you’re not on holiday but we have got out and done a few bits. “You always have to be disciplined. I have been doing foreign camps more or less my whole career. This is Salas’ base so it is good to come here and get away from any distractions.
“Las Vegas is such a boxing city, you can get any sort of sparring or training you need, all close by.”
But don’t expect to see much of Joyce in the casinos. Aside from training, The 6ft 6in former British, Commonwealth and European champion rarely leaves his room.
“After the morning run, I will have a nap,” he says. “I might come out here and use the pool or I might go for a coffee but I’ve also got my computer set-up here.
“I got myself a new laptop which has a cooling fan built-in and I have a new screen which I will just store with Salas until I come back here for the next camp. “I don’t know if I am the coolest computer nerd around – but I would hope I am the hardest. I still play Destiny, a bit of Call of Duty. I’ve dabbled in other games as well. I played the Final Fantasy Seven remake as well. “But I seem to gravitate back to Destiny really.”
On the subject of which, at one point, Joyce had seemed destined for a crack at his old Team GB colleague Anthony Joshua but their paths seem to be further away than ever. Never mind that the pair exist on differing broadcast platforms, but Joshua is scheduled to fight Oleksandr Usyk in a rematch in August and could well suffer a second consecutive defeat.
“I think he has a chance,” Joyce says of the rematch, which is set for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “He showed how he could turn it around with the Ruiz fight, he came with different tactics in the rematch, whether that was from his coach or from himself.
“He was competitive [in the first fight] and he has good power so if he can take it to Usyk like he should have done in the first fight then he has a puncher’s chance.”
Joyce is often outspoken on Joshua but only really to stir the pot. In private, you can sense the deep respect he has for his long-time sparring partner.
“I have known him for a long time over the years and I know he is a good guy and comes from a good place,” he adds. “As a person he is a good guy to be around and he is a role model.
“I always remember being in and around Team GB and seeing him banging out the heaviest weights, he is super-competitive.
“For a long while he looked unbeatable and then it all kind of came crashing down with the Andy Ruiz loss and that must have been hard to come back from. He won the rematch on the backfoot but looked scared to get hit.
“I think he has a lot to prove again. He is younger than me and has time on his side but he has also fought a lot of people and earned a lot of money. There’s that saying about getting up in the morning when you’ve been sleeping in silk pyjamas.
“I still really want to see him fight Tyson Fury but I would also like the chance to fight him myself so hopefully he doesn’t retire before that.”
In a bid to prevent a second successive beating at the hands of Usyk, Joshua changed his training team by splitting with Rob McCracken and bringing in Robert Garcia. Having worked with the likes of Adam Booth, Abel Sanchez and Salas, Joyce is no stranger to changing trainer and he had some words of advice for Joshua.
“Changing trainer can be hard but it really depends on how you are as a person,” Joyce says. “It depends if you can empty your cup – as Bruce Lee says. You pour water into a teapot and it becomes the teapot etc etc.
“It’s about being able to take on new information. If Joshua can absorb all the new information, techniques and tactics then it could be work but it also can take some time to adapt and incorporate into your sparring and fighting. It’s all a process.
“I think Angel Fernandez is still about, Robert Garcia is the main coach. Let’s see how it works. I really hope he can win the rematch for the British fans and for British boxing.
“I’ve also had to relearn things over the years. I was a jack of all trades – tried everything as a kid. So I’m a good student who likes to learn and improve. I have that adaptability when it comes to listening and learning a new skill. I went to college and uni which gave me time to mature and grow and feel like I have that ability to learn and adapt.”
Asked if Joshua had ever been in touch to chat boxing, Joyce adds: “He has never reached out to me, I used to have his number and we would catch-up occasionally.
“But after the Ruiz loss I tried to send him a nice message and I think he might have changed his number or thrown his phone in the sea.
“He has gone a bit odd more recently. He’s a bit of an odd guy in some ways.”
Over the years, some have said the same of Joyce, the 36-year-old, 6ft 6in fine art graduate with a history of competitive cheerleading now found either gaming or throwing punches. The truth is, he remains one of the most interesting individuals in British boxers but even he admits he has struggled to convey that in the press.
“The more interviews I do the more I improve but I have also had some coaching and I recently did an advert and doing that really helped,” he says.
“I get more comfortable and confident and now I have to pull my finger out and do more. I have been taught a few techniques to practice and it has helped.
“I’ve got a speaking coach, he gives me some pointers and advice on what to do. It’s just a confidence thing, so I have some techniques and stuff to practice.
“We did have a bit of media training on GB – on what not to say. Now it’s about getting myself across better but I like to let my fighting do the talking for me.”
With that, he is back inside to the comfort of his air con and his cooling fan. For now, Joyce has to prepare the best way he knows how for his next date with Destiny.