Joyce vs Zhang: Guaranteed Violence
We had three different fight cards on three different networks all happening at the same time last Saturday, and have multiple cards next weekend with the main focus being the super fight between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia. This weekend is looked at as a “bye week” for boxing, but there is one main event fight that should be getting more attention.
Joe Joyce (15-0, 14 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) will headline a Queensbury Promotions card that will be featured on ESPN+ tomorrow afternoon for us in the US. This will be the first defense of the WBO “interim” heavyweight title for Joyce, and the event will take place at the Copper Box Arena in the United Kingdom. This is a battle between two former Olympic silver medalists, with the winner getting one step closer to a world heavyweight championship opportunity.
Back in November of 2020, Joyce was a three-to-one underdog against fellow British contender Daniel Dubois (19-1, 18 KOs). Instead of being a stepping stone for the younger Dubois, Joyce punished him behind his power jab and forced Dubois to take a knee in round ten. Dubois suffered a fractured left eye socket, along with his first professional defeat. Joyce followed that up with two wins over Carlos Takam (40-7-1, 28 KOs) and Christian Hammer (27-10, 17 KOs) before being awarded the chance to fight for the interim WBO title.
Joyce squared off with former WBO champion Joseph Parker (31-3, 21 KOs) for the interim title last September. Just like in previous fights, Joyce was getting hit flush by Parker throughout the fight. Parker was unable to deter “The Juggernaut” from marching forward though, and a left hook from Joyce put Parker down and out in the eleventh round. With the victory Joyce was now the interim WBO champion, and picked up the highest rated win of his pro career.
With a world heavyweight title opportunity on the horizon, Joyce could have fought anyone in the WBO rankings in his next fight while he waited for his shot. Instead of taking a softer touch, he elected to go after the biggest puncher he will have fought as a pro. Zhieli Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) stands at 6’6″ and weighed in at 278lbs, and will be the first opponent to outweigh Joyce in years.
Most people who follow boxing believe that Zhang should still be undefeated. He fought Filip Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) in an IBF eliminator last year on the undercard of the rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua. Zhang started strong, scoring a knockdown in the first round and after nine rounds it seemed he was in full control. As he has before in the past, Zhang faded late in the fight and allowed Hrgovic to gain momentum and have success in the last three rounds. I scored the fight 114-113 for Zhang, but Hrgovic was given the close unanimous decision and the IBF mandatory challenger position in the end.
This fight will answer questions that still linger related to both fighters. Joyce has shown a great chin thus far, but with how cleanly he gets hit you can only wonder how long his chin will hold up. Zhang has real one punch knockout power in his left hand, and though he is a sizeable underdog he can not be counted out. It is also the first southpaw that Joyce has fought since his fourth professional fight. Zhang will certainly be dangerous early, but the main question pertaining to him is will he be able to keep up with the engine of Joyce. He has a history of fading late in fights, and against someone like Joyce who gets stronger as the rounds progress that could be a recipe for disaster.
Boxing is not always fair, and the mandatory challenger situation in the heavyweight division is yet another example of that. Joyce knocked out Daniel Dubois, and Zhang should have beaten Filip Hrgovic, but those are the next two men up for cracks at the unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs). Regardless of where the winner stands in the mandatory rotation, they will assert themselves as a dangerous contender for anyone in the heavyweight division.