By Dan Ambrose: WBO interim heavyweight champion Zhilei Zhang feels Joe Joyce is making a “big mistake” by facing him in a rematch on Saturday night at the OVO Arena in London.
Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) thinks that his sixth round TKO loss to Zhang (25-1-1,20 KOs) last April was a product of the wrong preparation by coming in too light at 256 lbs and not using enough head movement to get out of the way of the two-time Chinese Olympian’s left hands, which closed up his right eye.
In the chief support bout on Saturday, light heavyweight contender Anthony Yarde (23-3, 22 KOs) will fight 40-year-old Jorge Silva (22-8, 12 KOs) in a 10-round bout.
The card will be shown in the U.S. on ESPN+ at 5:00 p.m. ET/2:00 p.m. PT.
Joyce looks bigger for the rematch than he did last April, but he’s going to have to figure out a way to get out of the way of the heavy shots from 270+ lb Zhang.
Putting on weight won’t help Joyce if he’s eating the powerful left hands from Zhang all night long because his right eye will close up again if nailed often enough.
Joyce making a “bigger mistake” taking rematch
“In the first fight, me and my team were surprised by the results because I knew what was going to happen. I think Joyce gave me the opportunity, and I appreciate the opportunity, but his team made a big mistake choosing me for the first fight,” said Zhilei Zhang to Secondsout about Joe Joyce.
“I believe it’s a way bigger mistake than the first fight,” said Zhang about Joyce screwing up even worse by forcing the rematch. “In the first fight, they didn’t know, but now they know.
Another loss for the 37-year-old Joyce could be ends-ville for his career, as he’d be too old & slow to claw his way back to a position to fight for a world title.
With the money that Joyce can still make fighting in England, he probably won’t retire, but he would be finished as a potential future world title challenger.
British heavyweights can make good coin and become wealthy, being used as opponents. Dereck Chisora is an example of that.
“I don’t know why they still chose it because, in the first fight, they thought they could walk over me nice & easy,” said Zhang. “I showed him the Chinese power, and now here we are again.”
It’s fair to say that Joyce and his management team thought that Zhang was an easy mark after the way he struggled in ten round draw against journeyman Jerry Forrest in 2021.
Seeing that fight, they likely felt that Zhang was there for the picking. Moreover, Zhang’s loss to Filip Hrgovic last year had to have given Team Joyce confidence that their man could beat him.
“It’s very important for me and for my country because there was never a Chinese heavyweight world champion. I believe I created history in April, and I’m going to do it again in September,” Zhang said.
Zhang motivated for second fight
“It’s not pressure for me, but motivation for a guy out of China. We have the tradition of hard-working, and we have the tradition of not giving up. This is pride for my country,” said Zhang.
“We’re not fixing something that’s not broken. When you put a car in a dealership. Oiling it but not fixing it. A better engine and that’s not fixing, and that’s what I do. I keep improving in all different levels,” said Zhang.
After Zhang’s performance last April, he didn’t need to do an overhaul in his game because he was perfect in that fight. All he had to do was maintain and make slight improvements based on what his team saw in that fight.
Joyce will likely try and push a fast pace on Saturday, believing that he can wear Zhang down, and then capitalize on that in the later rounds to either get a stoppage or win a decision.
“If I target his eye and keep pounding his eye and he’s not swelling up, he’s got an iron eye,” said Zhang. “To me, I’m ready for 15 rounds. I want them both, but right now, Joe Joyce. He’s the most important thing and the only thing on my mind right now,” said Zhang when asked if he wants WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury or IBF, WBA & WBO champ Oleksandr Usyk next.
It’s hard to believe that Joyce’s right eye won’t swell up again quickly when Zhang begins nailing it with hard left hands. It’s too soon for Joyce to return to the ring after that eye injury to be fighting the same guy.
If Joyce were facing a fighter without massive power that fights out of the orthodox stance, it wouldn’t be as risky.
“First of all, age is just a number to me, as long as you live a disciplined life,” said Zhang. “I don’t look at a money fight and a title fight separately. It could be one thing,” said Zhang when asked if this could be his only shot at fighting for a world title at 40 if he beats Joyce.
Zhilei expects to be recognized more
“I’m very glad that I was recognized the way I was supposed to,” said Zhang. “In the first fight, everybody saw my power, my speed, and Chinese power. In the second fight, I think I’m going to be recognized more.”
If Zhang beats Joyce a second time, he’s obviously going to receive a lot of attention back home in China, and it’ll be massive when he fights for a world title next year against whoever holds the WBO title, be it Oleksandr Usyk, Tyson Fury or Filip Hrgovic.
“This fight on Saturday is going to be early morning in China,” said Zhang. “A lot of people already set their alarm to wake up and see this fight. I want to say thank you for the support, and with the power of China, I can put everybody down.
“A lot of boxers in China that are coming up are really good, but they don’t have that channel or have that opportunity to fight in big stages like this, but I just want their names to be seen, and I want their faces to be seen.
“My confidence comes from my training, and I know what I can do. If I perform like I performed in my training camp, I’ll finish him,” said Zhang about Joyce.