Saturday night in London’s Copper Box Arena was the latest reminder that boxing has been built for over a century on risk-taking. In this case, Joe Joyce took the risk of putting his unbeaten record and his WBO interim heavyweight title designation on the line against a large, but not widely thought of as dangerous, opponent in China’s Zhilei Zhang. The end result was Zhang putting in a dominant performance and stopping Joyce due to a brutally swollen right eye in the sixth round.
So, gone is the Englishman’s perfect record and his WBO placeholder spot for a possible world title fight with unified champ Oleksandr Usyk. He was left post fight with a nasty, swollen shut right eye trying to explain his short term future.
However, the mere fact that Joyce was willing to take a risk with his standing and his record is something that should be lauded. Lauded, because in the current day and age, prominent fighters choose instead to only fight once, or maybe sometimes twice, while taking virtually no risks and trying to protect especially an unbeaten records.
And, Joyce’s upset loss is only the latest recent example of someone taking a risk and essentially having it backfire.
Zhang was on point last night 🎯 pic.twitter.com/k1OuyBYU2n
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) April 16, 2023
In fact, just last weekend in Carson, California, unheralded Brian Mendoza upset WBC interim Junior middleweight champ, and previously unbeaten, Sebastian Fundora by a shocking 7th round knockout . Like Joyce, Fundora had the WBC’s placeholder belt and had also been patiently waiting for a shot at undisputed 154 lb. champ Jermell Charlo. But, instead of taking hand-picked, easy opposition, he stepped up against a fighter who had scored a recent KO win over previous junior middleweight world champ Jeison Rosario.
And, in taking that risk, it ended up getting Fundora KO’d. And, for now, it’s set his career back, as well. Now, one could argue that Fundora, who is significantly younger that the 37 year old Joyce, can easier absorb and recover from the loss.
— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) April 9, 2023
However, as a fan or observer of the sport, “you can’t have it both ways.”
Meaning, either you want fighters to remain more active and fight competitive, risky fights. Fights that draw more interest and are therefore worth more financially to everyone. And, you should therefore, reward and applaud them, especially for wins. Or, instead, you have to sit back and watch what largely goes on in the present sport, which is fighters taking almost no risk at all and fighting infrequently while doing it.
Sure, at the highest level champions like Usyk, Tyson Fury, Canelo Alvarez, Jermell Charlo, now Devin Haney, and Errol Spence have earned a bit of a pass on fighting a lesser fighter occassionally, because of the number of prominent fighters they’ve already fought and defeated in their recent record.
But, for dozens and dozens of others, it shouldn’t be acceptable enough just to win against anyone.
Rather, take the risk.
Just as, Joyce and Fundora were willing to take.
And even though they didn’t win, we all benefitted with exciting bouts and unexpected endings.
What boxing used to be for fighters looking to move up.