<
>

At 33, 'Juggernaut' Joe Joyce in a rush to get a title shot

Heavyweight Joe Joyce, left, faces former world title challenger Bryant Jennings in London on Saturday. Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Heavyweight Joe Joyce believes a victory over former world title challenger Bryant Jennings on Saturday (3 p.m. ET on ESPN+) in London, Joyce's hometown, would be the perfect springboard toward bigger and better fights.

Joyce (9-0, 9 KOs), 33, won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and, due to his late start in the paid ranks, is in a rush to join the heavyweight elite and fight for major titles.

Joyce, known as "Juggernaut," destroyed Alexander Ustinov in three rounds two months ago, and only three of his opponents have made it past four rounds.

But like former heavyweight titlist Bermane Stiverne, whom Joyce demolished in a sixth-round TKO victory in February, Jennings will be a good measure of Joyce's potential to earn a legitimate world title shot in the near future. Jennings is the best opponent Joyce has been matched against so far as a professional.

Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs), 34, of Philadelphia, turned professional nine years ago and in 2014 lost a unanimous decision in challenging Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko for his WBA, IBF and WBO world titles. In his next fight, Jennings was stopped in seven rounds by Cuba's Luis Ortiz. He recovered from those back-to-back loses to win five fights in a row before a 12th-round TKO defeat against Colombia's Oscar Rivas in January.

"He's only lost to quality opponents like Klitschko, Ortiz and Rivas at the top level, so he's a good boxer and it's a big test for me," Joyce told ESPN.

"He's a good name to get on my record, and this is why we took the fight. After I finish this fight with Jennings, I will see what's on the table. And I'm still mandatory for the WBA regular title and also for the European title." So maybe he'll face the European champion, Agit Kabayel (19-0, 13 KOs), or Manuel Charr (31-4, 17 KOs), both based in Germany.

Joyce, who does not have a top-10 ranking with any of the four world governing bodies, is not targeting anyone in particular. But he understand it's a good time to be a heavyweight after Andy Ruiz Jr.'s seventh-round win over Anthony Joshua for the WBA, IBF and WBO world titles last month, which shook up the heavyweight division.

"Andy Ruiz came up to Big Bear [in California] when I was training there with Abel Sanchez and sparred with Charles Martin," Joyce said.

"He didn't seem that fit to me. He was struggling after four rounds and didn't want to spar me, so I thought Joshua would just get him out of there. I saw he had good hand speed, though. I thought Joshua was going to get him out of there in Round 4, but as soon as he got hurt, he had problems."

While they were both amateurs, Joshua and Joyce were on the same Team GB squad, but it was Joshua who went to the 2012 Olympics and subsequently won gold. Joyce, who had to wait until the 2016 Olympics, thought his old teammate was set for a long reign as world champion, like Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko.

"I thought it was going to be like the Klitschkos, who dominated all the belts for years. But it shows you what can happen," Joyce said about Ruiz's upset victory over Joshua.

"Tyson Fury did it to Klitschko, and for personal reasons, Fury lost all the belts. But he's still the lineal champion. Deontay Wilder is holding on to the WBC [belt], and it's between those two as to who is No. 1 now."

Joyce wants two more fights in 2019 after this weekend -- but don't bank on one of them being against the winner of the British title bout between Daniel Dubois and Nathan Gorman, who fight in Saturday's main event in London. Joyce wants to take the shortest route possible to the big fights and is not ruling out a shot at one of the world titles in the next 18 months.

"It's changed the whole landscape, with Joshua losing, because he was trying to clean up," Joyce said.

"There was talk with Wilder and Fury, but that's all gone now. There are new fights to be made. I've got to get past Jennings, and then I can plan what that next move is for me. I'm still on track with what I'm doing, and some of the world title belts could become available."

Joyce will have his second fight with U.K.-based trainer Adam Booth, after splitting from California-based coach Abel Sanchez earlier this year.