Joe Joyce edges closer to Olympic qualification despite British Lionhearts continuing losing run

Commonwealth Games gold medallist Joe Joyce is one step closer to automatic qualification for Rio 2016 after another win in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) last night.

The super-heavyweight extended his unbeaten run in the competition with a unanimous decision over Abdeljalil Abouhamda of the Morocco Atlas Lions.

While Joyce’s victory puts him at the top of his weight class in WSB, the British Lionhearts lost last night’s fixture overall, their sixth straight loss as a team.

WSB debutant Luke McCormack picked up the only other win for the Lionhearts while Kelvin De La Nieve, Ekow Essuman and Croydon’s Joshua Buatsi all lost.

The top-ranked boxer in his weight class at the end of the regular season will gain Olympic qualification, and Joyce knows there is still work to do.

“It feels good to be top of the division but I have to keep it that way if I want a chance of qualifying for the Olympics,” he said.

“I need to keep up the good work and carry on winning.”

Joyce is unable to box his two closest rivals as they are not in his group, so the Earlsfield fighter must accrue as many points as possible in order to maintain his top spot.

Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic and Azerbaijan’s Arlanbek Makhmvdov, will box each other this weekend, making Joyce’s next fight against Russia in April a critical one.

“It’s a crucial bout against Russia. I want to see how Hrgovic and Makhmvdov get on tomorrow night, because it’s a close points battle at the moment,” he said.

“It would be brilliant to beat a Russian, the last two Russians I fought I got beaten. It would be good to put that right.

“I’m confident I can do it, I just need to keep at it and make sure I’m in the right frame of mind and fitness to fulfil my dreams of qualifying.”

Joyce began his bout in dominant fashion, disheartening his opponent with a number of crunching shots, allowing him little space to manoeuvre.

The Moroccan recovered well, however, and was able to clip Joyce with a few punches of his own, only to be punished with further combinations.

After a handful of spiteful exchanges along the way, Joyce was awarded a deserved unanimous decision to bring his unbeaten WSB run to five.

“I knew my opponent was tricky because I’ve watched videos of him before,” he said.

“He was tall and rangy and he had a good guard so a lot of my hooks weren’t getting through. I had to change the game plan and go down the middle.

“I felt like I was blocking a lot of his shots, I don’t think I was caught cleanly.”

As one of the few boxers to beat a member of the imperious Cuban squad, who sit at the top of their group, Joyce has followed a hard route to his top spot.

However, that win in Havana came via split decision, which earned him one less point than a unanimous decision would have, a deficit that could prove decisive.

“Beating the Cuban in Havana goes down in history, especially as he was a southpaw,” he said.

“It was a great win, especially as it was in the arena they held the first World Championships that seats 16,000.

“It was frustrating to only get a split decision as it’s one less point, but it was still a great win.”

Also on last night’s card was Croydon light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi who lost a narrow split decision to the experienced Peter Mullenberg of the Netherlands.

In his first WSB bout, Buatsi boxed well at range against Mullunberg, but the Dutch national champion was able to smother a lot of the Brit’s work.

A stiff right uppercut in the closing seconds of round four had Mullunberg teetering, but there was not enough time left for Buatsi to finish the job.

“I think I did enough to win, he was working inside but I was working with him,” Buatsi said.

“At the end of the fourth round I hurt him, he never hurt me once in that fight.

“He landed shots but I hit him back, obviously the judges saw what they saw and I can’t argue with it. It is what it is.

“If I had hurt him 30 seconds earlier in the fourth round, he would have gone, 100%.”

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