We are forever heralding our favourite fighters for their heart, cojones, bravery, and often, durability. Durability is defined as “the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage” — in terms of a boxer’s health, it’s a dangerous road to walk down.
Saturday night’s fight between Joe Joyce and Bermane Stiverne emphasised how reliant certain fighters have become of this trait of durability inside the ring.
Joe Joyce was a heavy favourite coming into this fight inside the 02 Arena. The Olympian peppered the former WBC heavyweight champion with consistent, robotic pressure punches, allowing Stiverne little breathing space in between flurries of attacks. Although not being considered a one-punch knockout artist, Joyce — and all 265 pounds of him — still throws some weight in the land of the giants, and for all six rounds of the fight, the Briton pummelled the skull of Stiverne with little in the way of defence.
The problem is, Stiverne knew this was the only chance he had of winning the contest. He was willing to soak up punishment in the hope of landing one devastating lottery-shot later in the fight; the longer the fight rumbled on, the more leather that Stiverne was forced to endure. Stiverne had a lively first round, and with Joyce’s whiskers proving unmoved after a few big bombs, the away fighter must have known that the writing was on the wall from an early stage.
These are the most dangerous fights in the careers of the “tough guys” of our sport. One concussive knockout punch isn’t exactly harmless, but the sustained pressure to the head that Stiverne was taking minute-upon-minute on Saturday will do far much more damage in the long-term than a first-round blow-out would of.
Stiverne was playing with fire. Entering the ring for just the second time in four years, the 40-year-old was completely out of shape, breathing out of his mouth from early in the fight, completely unsuited to complete the task that was assigned to him. It goes without saying, but this isn’t the first case, and of course, won’t be the last, but it’s time for professionals within the sport to act accordingly to stop these effective heavy bags entering the ring unprepared.
Who is accountable for these type of matchups is where the issue gets foggy. Does the buck stop with a fighter like Stiverne? It’s impossible to trust a fighter’s self-evaluation in a fight of that magnitude to expect him to pull himself out, retiring in the fight. It was a tactic from Stiverne. His hands were down for a majority of the rounds willing to soak up the punches, with no regard for his own health under the bright lights of the East London ring.
A fighter’s corner? We’ve all seen the dilemma that corners and trainers go through in terms of if and when to put a stop to their guy’s fight — and I’m not just talking about Rocky IV. They see them day-in-day-out in training and sparring and should have the best gauge of their fighter’s limits, however, many are blinded by the event and allow their hearts to rule their heads in the most important moments of their fighter’s careers.
Referee Howard Foster could have stopped this fight as early as the second. Foster has become synonymous with early stoppages after waving off the first Froch-Groves fight in 2014; it’s hard to see what Foster saw in Stiverne as late as the sixth round.
Promoters need to take some of the heat. Lining up the usual suspects of gatekeepers and cannon-fodder often see them dip into the box of “durable” fighters.
The composition of this sport allows this to happen time and time again. Refusing a licence for certain fighters who are deemed unfit by a certain commission will just force them to gain one elsewhere; the problem just moves on rather than being tackled. A centralised commission could go some way to curb this issue, with rules put in place across the sport.
This isn’t a piece shitting on Stiverne. He was awful on Saturday night, but we all expected this type of performance. Despite what we think of certain guys in the sport, the health of boxers should be paramount. In a division as dangerous as the heavyweight class, performances like that on Saturday night can alter your quality of life significantly down the line.