With just over two weeks to go until his debut for new promoter Frank Warren, it was announced that Joe Joyce would meet giant Russian Alexander Ustinov in what is also his first outing under trainer Adam Booth, at the Lamex Stadium on May 18. Despite the short notice and the well-documented bigger fight waiting for Joyce on July 13 at the O2, social media was awash with criticism of the Ustinov match, decrying the huge but slow opponent as ‘shot’ and ‘old’, among other, more profane epithets. The detractors were aided and abetted by Joyce’s manager, Sam Jones, once labelling Ustinov “the worst heavyweight in the world.” In hindsight, Jones may regret the ‘tongue in cheek’ comment.
“It’s the best possible fight we could make in the time we had,” Sam told me. “He’ll have had about four weeks’ notice. Who would you rather me put Joe in with on this notice, it’s a runout, his first fight with Adam Booth. The critics are mainly people who don’t have a clue, it’s a runout to prepare for a big fight in July; would they rather a guy with 40 losses on his record?
“Yeah, I called him the worst heavyweight in the world but it’s tongue in cheek, I said the same thing about Bermane Stiverne [who Joe destroyed in February]. Would they prefer Senad Gashi, or do they want a fight where two men are going to run forward and throw punches?”
While Jones is keen to place the contest in its proper context, he is able to offer a subjective appraisal of Ustinov’s suitability. He sympathises with the critics’ assessments if not their ultimate censure.
“He’s big, strong, slow, a bit sloppy,” Jones stated. “He can make it ugly, is past his best but he is still a huge man who can punch, so we have to take it seriously. Joe would beat him at 42 or 32 years of age and anyone with half a brain cell would agree with me.”
While Ustinov must not be taken lightly, the focus really remains on July 13. Jones admitted that while a vacant British title showdown with Daniel Dubois is still in play, the undefeated prospect sits way down their list of targets.
“I’ve been speaking to Frank Warren every day and July 13 is going to be a big fight,” Jones confirmed. “It’s possibly going to be Dubois, there are a few names in the pot that we’ve expressed interest in and if they can’t be made we’ll fight Dubois. We want Agit Kabayel, the undefeated European champion who pretty much played with Dereck Chisora, and we’d love Chisora too. We’d even look at someone like Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Tony Yoka; they’re all being spoken about.
“Dubois is coming off beating Richard Lartey who Joe was gonna fight in his second fight, while Joe just beat Bermane Stiverne, a former world champion; he’s way, way ahead. I know it’s frustrating times for fans, but people have to be realistic and patient.”