Joe Joyce has spent much of the last nine months suspended in virtual reality.
But after beating up electronic opponents on a makeshift roof terrace in Surrey, the 35-year-old will finally get the chance to hit a real-life Daniel Dubois on Saturday night.
The trumpet-playing fine art graduate with a penchant for capoeira did not exactly struggle for things to occupy his time when the country went into lockdown back in March. If anything, he quite enjoyed it.
“I was chilling out,” he says. “I treated it like a bit of time off.”
He did box in July, walking through overmatched Michael Wallisch inside three rounds, which finally set up his long-awaited clash with his former amateur sparring partner Dubois.
“The Wallisch fight was a bit of short notice after coming out of lockdown,” he adds. “I had started my camp in Las Vegas with my trainer Ismael Salas. Flew out there, had a great training camp and had access to the UFC facility and everything was going really well.
“Then the pandemic kicked in and I had to get back home. My plan was to do my training in Vegas – nice hot weather and it's nice to be away from home to train. But I didn't know this was going to happen.”
So instead of preparing himself for what could be a career-defining clash in the fight capital of the world, Joyce has done the hard yards in Surbiton.
“I'm here in England where it's wet, cold and miserable in lockdown,” he says. “The only excitement is that after I beat this guy I can move on with my career.
“But I've been keeping myself busy. There was some decking outside my flat on a rooftop, it had some artificial grass on there and I was using my virtual reality headset out there. It's got boxing games and everything.
“I've also got my set up in my computer room. I've got three monitors and a gaming set-up.
“I've spent a lot more time in there because they put a sign up on the roof saying it's hazardous so nobody can use it anymore. Maybe I was to blame but for health and safety they had to put the signs up. I guess in case I put my foot through the roof or something. It's a bit anti-fun.”
Instead Joyce has been holed up in Stallard's Boxing Gym preparing to face Dubois, nearly a year after it was first announced. It is now fourth time lucky for the pair after Coronavirus caused postponements in April, July and October.
The pandemic has also precluded fans from attending the fight, which will take place at Church House in Westminster, meaning both men will be paid substantially less than they expected.
“It was supposed to be a sell-out crowd at the o2 and on pay-per-view so we had a very good guarantee to take the fight,” Joyce says. “But because of all the other things it's had to be lowered. That sucks.
“But even now, who else am I going to fight for that kind of money? I prefer to be doing something than not doing anything. It gives me a goal and a target, something to look forward to and to achieve.”
The Joyce-Dubois story can be traced all the way back to Sheffield when the pair shared the ring in the English Institute of Sport during their time together in the GB set-up over five years ago.
Joyce says he was always taken aback by how nervous his younger opponent appeared before any of their sparring sessions and the 35-year-old believes the jury is still out as to whether Dubois can handle an occasion like Saturday night.
“He used to get very nervous before the spars,” Joyce says. “I think he gets very nervous before fights.
“Maybe he has grown out of that now but maybe he's still affected by it. Especially given the magnitude of the fight. How will he handle it when the stakes are this high? The winner of this could be going onto world titles. We have everything to lose.
“And then he will have me looking, snarling across the ring. We will see what he's made of. That's when he will know this is not a game and it will all become very real.”
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