By Jake Tiernan: WBO heavyweight interim champion Zhilei Zhang could finish the once promising career of 2016 Olympics silver medalist Joe Joyce this Saturday night on September 23, in their rematch at the Wembley Arena in London.
Joyce is stubbornly taking the rematch because he wants to recapture the WBO interim title so that he can challenge IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk next year. Holding the WBO interim is the golden ticket for Joyce or Zhang to fight for that title.
The big southpaw two-time Chinese Olympian Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) stopped Joyce in the sixth round in their previous fight on April 1st at the Copper Box Arena in London.
The contest was halted due to the 6’6″ ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce’s right eye closing shut in the sixth round from the hard impacts by Zhang’s sniper-like left hands.
These were lead left hands that Zhang was tagging the slow-as-molasses Joyce with, and he lacked the defense& reaction time to get out of the way of the shots.
Zhang has already let the boxing public know that he’s going to target Joyce’s eye to close it up once again to force another stoppage. If Joyce can’t block those shots from Zhang, it could be an early night.
Obviously, Joyce’s lack of speed & reflexes aren’t going to improve for the rematch on Saturday, so if he’s going to win, he’ll need to use a different approach to the fight, perhaps using the Tyson Fury mauling tactics to lean & wrestle Zhang.
If Joyce can wear out Zhang by grappling with him, he might be able to come in the second half to score a stoppage or get lucky with a controversial decision, as we saw with the Eddie Hearn-promoted Filip Hrgoviclast year in August 2022 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. That looked like a 100% robbery in the eyes of many people.
Rather than move on and admit that he’d come up against the better man with a style that was all wrong for him, the 37-year-old Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) has chosen to place his career at risk by taking the immediate rematch.
Saturday’s Zhang vs. Joyce II rematch event will be shown on ESPN+ starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in the U.S. and on TNT Sports at 7:30 p.m. in the UK.
Zhang to target Joyce’s eye
“I think from the opening bell, Joe was having problems trying to figure out what the fight was going to be looking like,” said Zhilei Zhang to Frank Warren’s social platform about his rematch with Joe Joyce this Saturday night.
Joyce was totally clueless about Zhang, and it was sad to watch how befuddled. There was really nothing Joyce could do because he was getting pummeled by Zhang from the first round.
Joyce was badly hurt by a left hand from Zhang in the second, staggered back against the ropes, and took some heavy blows.
If ‘Big Bang’ had gone all out for the knockout, he probably would have gotten the job done in that round because Joyce looked stunned and in bad shape.
“So, he activated the rematch and definitely analyzed the fight,” said Zhang. “I’m going to aim for his eye. I know where his weakness is at. Of course, everybody saw the eye swelling up. I’m aiming for the eye, no question,” said Zhang making his intentions clear for what he plans on doing this Saturday night in his rematch with Joyce.
Will Joyce retire if he loses the fight? That’s the magic question because if he gets beaten, he’ll be too old to try and claw his way back.
Obviously, Joyce will keep fighting because even with him fighting no-name opposition, he’ll make more money than he will if he retires.
Still, Joyce’s chances of getting into a position to challenge for a world title as a mandatory would be slim & none.