AS the No. 7 heavyweight contender in the world, Joe Joyce is firmly in the mix for fights at the elite end of the division. His sights are particularly set on the winner of the Anthony Joshua-Oleksandr Usyk contest, though the plan, assuming Joshua wins, is for “AJ” to take on Tyson Fury afterwards, so long as Fury defeats Deontay Wilder in their rescheduled trilogy bout. So for the time being, Joyce must ignore these ifs and buts and simply concentrate on maintaining his lofty position in the rankings – a position that Carlos Takam wants to take from him.

This Saturday (July 24), Joyce and Takam collide on a Queensberry promotion at Wembley Arena, live on BT Sport 1 in the UK. Now 40 years old, it could well be Takam’s final chance to force his way into the upper echelons of the heavyweight division once again, as the Cameroonian-Frenchman is a former contender himself, having mixed with some quality opposition in the past.

After winning all but one of his opening 30 contests, Takam came up against the talented Mike Perez in January 2014 and seemed unfortunate to only come away with a majority draw. Five months later, he soundly outpointed the dangerous Tony Thompson on a unanimous decision, which led him into an October clash with Alexander Povetkin on hostile territory in Russia. Takam held his own until the accomplished local favourite uncorked a devastating knockout blow in the 10th round.

Takam’s next significant fight came in May 2016 against Joseph Parker – then a touted prospect, now the No. 8 heavyweight contender. Once again competing on his opponent’s home turf, Takam dropped a competitive but fair unanimous verdict in New Zealand. The away days continued for the stocky slugger when he came in as a late substitute to oppose Anthony Joshua on British soil in October 2017. Joshua was coming off a stirring victory over the illustrious Wladimir Klitschko, but Takam made life difficult at times for the renowned Brit, before succumbing to a much-debated stoppage in round 10.

Nine months after the Joshua loss, Takam returned to the UK for a dramatic scrap with the unpredictable Derek Chisora. The muscular visitor was in the ascendancy going into the eighth round, but Chisora turned the bout on its head by delivering a brutal fight-ending finish. Since this defeat, Takam has won four out of four, albeit against rivals from outside of the top tier. Last time out 12 months ago, he was brought in as a late replacement to face the decent Jerry Forrest. Despite tiring somewhat in the later stages, Takam was the recipient of a deserved unanimous vote.

Like Takam, Joyce fought twice last year. In his most recent outing in November, the Putney powerhouse took on Daniel Dubois in a highly anticipated battle of Britain. Someone’s ‘0’ had to go in this mouth-watering matchup, and it turned out to be Dubois’. Prior to the contest, the marauding Joyce had been categorised by many observers as an effective but rather one-dimensional aggressor. Yet in the fight itself, “The Juggernaut” demonstrated his considerable boxing skills by breaking Dubois down with a tremendous, punishing jab. The giant Londoner’s accurate attacks fractured the left eye socket of Dubois, resulting in a 10th-round KO win for Joyce, who left the ring as the British, Commonwealth and European champion.

The impressive triumph over Dubois enhanced Joyce’s ledger to 12-0 (11). Other notable names on the 35-year-old’s CV include an out-of-shape Bermane Stiverne (rsf 6 – February 2019) and a spirited Bryant Jennings (ud 12 – July 2019). Having turned professional 12 years later than Takam, Joyce unsurprisingly possesses far less pro experience than his upcoming foe, whose record reads 39-5-1 (28).

Although Takam is the more seasoned pro, his amateur pedigree is not as stellar as Joyce’s. A 2003 African gold medallist and 2004 Olympian, Takam achieved substantial success in the unpaid ranks, but Joyce collected an array of major medals during his time in the amateurs. European bronze in 2013 and Commonwealth gold in 2014 was followed by World bronze in 2015 and Olympic silver in 2016. This was in addition to an extensive and fruitful spell in the World Series of Boxing, where among Joyce’s long list of victims was Filip Hrgovic, of whom big things are expected in the pros.

While the 6ft 6in Joyce is four-and-a-half inches taller than Takam, the two share a very similar reach. They are both strong, come-forward fighters who boast high work rates. Joyce’s engine is especially formidable, as he marches ahead relentlessly, unloading heavy hooks to head and body, as well as thumping one-twos. Cool, calm and menacing, he keeps things simple and employs an awkward style that is difficult to overcome. His defence is not the tightest, but his solid chin and supreme conditioning make up for this.

Like Joyce, Takam can be tagged, yet he is known for his toughness. Fighting out of Henderson, Nevada, the well-travelled veteran aggressively bulls forward, launching clubbing hooks and booming uppercuts. He will meet Joyce head-on and attempt to unsettle the younger man, but sparring with the all-action Alen Babic will have prepared Joe well for this type of tactic. By grinding Takam down with hurtful, precise punches, Joyce can emerge victorious sometime in the second half of this 12-rounder.

The Verdict The likes of Joshua and Usyk are for another day. The present for Joyce is Takam.

Jenkins defends his two titles against Essuman in an intriguing encounter

IN the chief support, Welshman Chris Jenkins, 22-3-3 (8), puts his British and Commonwealth welterweight titles on the line against Nottingham’s undefeated Ekow Essuman, 14-0 (5).

Jenkins unanimously outscored the rugged Johnny Garton to claim the British belt in March 2019, before adding the vacant Commonwealth crown five months later with a razor-thin nine-round technical decision over former successful amateur Paddy Gallagher. The Garnant man rounded off the year with a defence of his titles in November against the improving Liam Taylor. Just as in the Gallagher fight, Jenkins suffered a cut that brought an end to proceedings. However, in this instance, as four full rounds had not yet been completed, the bout was declared a technical draw.

The standout win on Essuman’s record came in March 2019 against ex-British super-lightweight champion Tyrone Nurse, whom he overcame on a majority verdict. (Nurse had previously both drawn with and beaten Jenkins.) Most recently in September last year, the Botswana-born 32-year-old vanquished two-time Conor Benn opponent Cedrick Peynaud on a unanimous vote.

Having been out of action for 20 months, ring rust could be an issue for Jenkins, who, as well as being plagued by cuts, has also been dropped in his last two bouts. Neither man is regarded as a huge puncher, yet they both jab with authority, target the body effectively and set a high pace. Jenkins turns 33 next month and possesses the greater experience as a pro, but Essuman is the fresher fighter. With the challenger being on an upward trajectory, he can dethrone Jenkins by prevailing on points.

Unbeaten prospects Hamzah Sheeraz and Chris Bourke feature further down the bill in 10-rounders. Super-welterweight Sheeraz meets Ezequiel Gurria, while super-bantam Bourke vies with James Beech Jnr.