Joe Joyce battles Zhilei Zhang on April 15th in London on BT Sport
By Brian Webber: Joe Joyce (15-0, 14 KOs) will be making a risky defense of his interim WBO heavyweight title against the big-punching two-time Olympian Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) in a 12 round fight on BT Sport on April 15th at the Copper Box Arena in London, England.
Joyce vs. Zhang will be a fun fight with both of these big punchers standing in the center ring, trading big blows. Zhang has shown himself to be susceptible to pressure from fighters that set a fast pace and have a strong chin.
‘The Juggernaut’ Joyce tends to apply nonstop pressure on his opponents, forcing them to expend a great deal of energy in every round.
Journeyman Jerry Forrest weathered an early storm against Zhang to rally in the later rounds to salvage a 10 round draw in their fight in 2021. Zhang had Forrest down in rounds 1, 2, and 3 but couldn’t put him away because he gassed out.
As long as Joyce doesn’t lead with his face in the early rounds, he’s got an excellent chance of stopping the 6’6″ Zhang in the second half of the contest. It still won’t be an easy fight for Joyce, but he’s got the engine to wear Zhang down and stop him in the championship rounds.
Zhang was arguably robbed in his last fight in August, losing a questionable 12 round unanimous decision to Filip Hrgovic in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Many boxing fans, Joyce included, thought Zhang deserved the win in that fight.
Again, Zhang gassed out in the championship rounds just as he did against Forrest, which is why he ultimately lost the fight. There’s no question that Zhang faded down the backstretch, allowing Hrgovic to rally to win the fight.
The 2016 Olympic silver medalist Joyce is coming off the best victory of his short six-year pro career, stopping former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker in the 11th round last September in a war from start to finish.
That was a statement win for the 37-year-old Joyce, who sent a message to champions Tyson Fury & Oleksandr Usyk that he was coming for them.
Fury had initially expressed interest in facing Joyce, but he seems to have changed his mind and will likely go in the direction of an exhibition hybrid fight against Francis Ngannou in the summer. From there that might be Fury’s last fight of 2023.
Joyce is taking the fight to prepare him to face the winner of the April 29th undisputed battle between WBC champion Fury and IBF, WBA & WBO champ Oleksandr Usyk.
“I think with me and Zhang, there will be real heavy punches exchanged, and I am sure it will be a good fight. It will be a good preparation for Usyk or Fury,” said Joyce to Queensberry Promotions.
“It will be carnage in the center of the ring. He had a tough fight against Hrgovic, but I thought he won the fight. Zhang is a big, strong southpaw who is massive, and he has been to the Olympics and all that,” said Joyce.
The 27-year-old Joyce might need to wait until 2024 before he either gets a title shot or is elevated to full champ if Fury elects to vacate. That’s assuming, of course, that Fury defeats Usyk to capture his WBO belt.
It says a lot about the Bloomfield, New Jersey resident Zhang that he was willing to take a dangerous fight against a fighter like Joyce because it’s a fight that he could lose.
Even if Zhang does get beat, he could still come out of the fight as a winner if he battles Joyce hard and has success in the early rounds. No one has done well against Joyce, and it would be interesting if Zhang were to give him problems.
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- OFFICIAL: Joyce vs Zhang on April 15 at the Copper Box Arena