Belgium hasn’t been a traditional hotbed for pugilism talent, though that isn’t to say this nation cannot lay a massive claim to fame in the context of the sphere of fighting.
You recall the so-called “Muscles From Brussels?” No? If you are a certain age you are familiar with the living legend that is Jean-Claude Van Damme. The filmic action star started out in karate, in full contact tourneys, and then transitioned into film work. From the late-80s into the mid-90s, his flicks brought ‘em in to the mega-plexes. Bloodsport and the Kickboxer movies, Timecop and then more into the sequel sphere. And even if the on-screen action lacked realism, the revenues were real, and Belgians could look to the limber actioner with pride.
On Friday, another Belgium native will look to make maximum impact in his New York debut. Joel “Big Joe” Djeko fights in the co-main event at the Paramount on Long Island, in Huntington, NY, on an event promoted by Joe De Guardia and Star Boxing. He meets an Italian cruiserweight, Simone Federici, and one cruiser will likely leave the ring in a better place to make some noise in that division.
I dare say Djeko has already done so, judging by the excerpts from a Q-and-A he did with Star PR. If his walk matches his talk, he could succeed Jean-Pierre Coopman as the most known Belgian boxer.
These are often very dry, basic, and forgettable. We got some basics, learning that Djeko was born on July 30, 1989, in Brussels, Belgium. He is of Congolese and Cuban descent.
”Life was not easy,” said the fighter, who will be featured on a Facebook Fightnight Live stream-cast, for which I will perform blow by blow duties. “I grew up in a poor environment and had to fight every day to get by.”
Djeko started with Thai boxing, but “wanted to improve my fighting technique with fists so I started boxing. I fell in love with this sport and I never lost it again. I trained many years in the famous boxing club of Brussels with coach Leon Nzama. Then I trained with Don Turner in his bootcamp in Atlanta, Georgia, which also gave me a lot of basics. Today I train at Fitzroy Lodge ABC gym in London, because I moved to London in August of 2018 to further my training.”
Basics, right — wait, it gets better.
”I am excited for this fight, I can’t wait for the day to arrive. This stage is for me the opportunity to show myself to the real public of boxing and to unlock big fights that will arrive thereafter. What I want above all is to refresh boxing by bringing it a new face.
“I was boycotted and people always put sticks in my wheels. Coming up, people wanted me to be a journeyman, but I knew I have the ability to be a world champion. Today I believe that I am at the same stage as the boxers who have always been promoted and protected. I have the rage, I’m not here to play. I come to take my place, that of world champion.”
Video shows a well muscled, low BMI, fast-handed, confident — you might say cocky — hitter, who perhaps can be susceptible inside, if he has a high guard but isn’t moving his head. He sometimes keeps the hands low, making an old school trainer nervous, and the Italian will need to be wary of a straight right that is swift and severe. He sometimes loads up, and could at times take something off a shot to better his accuracy.
More from Big Joe:
“So, what I’m going to do is bring the world of boxing a new energy, mine and as General Big Joe, warlord, I intend to train my army and to know my fans. I am a leader who attracts the public. Some boxers do it for the national level, I’m international and that’s why my audience comes from everywhere. Moreover, my English, Belgian and French fans do not stop contacting me to know how to see this fight of February 22nd.”
Djeko tells you to get on board his train, now.
“Now is the time to start following me. Know that there is only one throne and crown and it is for me. I invite all fans of boxing in search of thrills and challenges to join me in my quest today. I will realize your expectations because I will break the doors of failure by the fists of victory. I am a pirate in the soul, I do not represent any flag but my fans. And I pay special attention to all those people who come from underprivileged backgrounds, who are boycotted and set aside.
“I fight every day to show them that we must hang on and not fall into delinquency, I fight for these future generations to have the same chances of succeeding regardless of their social background. Know that nobody is condemned to failure and that no one can stop you if you have decided to not let them.”
In all honesty, I am on board the Djeko Train. I can’t help it. This man has leadership quality in excess. I, too, am a pirate in the soul, and think it’s righteous to hear that Djeko represents no flag but as an entity that exists to entertain his fans. No delinquency for me, thanks for reading, my friends.