The trainer of twice-felled Joe Joyce is still optimistic that his heavyweight charge is still in the title contention mix.
In a recent interview, Ismael Salas, the coach of London’s Joyce, reflected on Joyce’s consecutive brutal losses to China’s Zhilei Zhang this past year.
The rematch, which took place in September at Wembley Arena in London, saw Zhang lay out Joyce with a right hook, effectively ending the momentum Joyce had generated for the past several years as a serious contender for a title shot.
After the fight, there were calls for the 38-year-old Joyce to retire.
But Salas insisted that Joyce can rebound from his two losses, citing the career trajectories of heavyweight greats of the past.
“All heavyweights [have taken] a loss,” Salas told Boxing News. “Only undefeated is Tyson Fury. Only undefeated is Rocky Marciano and [unified champion Oleksandr] Usyk. These three guys. After that, all the big and great heavyweights have lost.”
“In heavyweights, you can have a loss but at the same time you lost, you learn,” Salas continued. “This is the good thing. Each and every one of our team we learn. We need to keep improving.”
Salas gave full credit to Zhang for coming up with “adjustments” in the rematch, essentially nullifying the things Joyce worked on in his own training camp.
“Zhilei did the proper adjustments,” Salas said. “I give a plus to him. Styles make fights. Joe Joyce's chin is like iron but Zhang proved that he can make the adjustment. He came one way in fight number one, and in fight number two, he became another fighter and I’m very happy. We are a sport. Unfortunately, Joe Joyce lost. He’s [taking] a step back. He was already on the line for big fights.”
“I don’t care about criticism, positive or negative,” Salas continued. “I will keep working. We are not perfect. Each and every one of us have ups and downs.”
Salas said he wants Joyce to return in January and also named a potential opponent, his promotional stablemate and former opponent Daniel Dubois. Joyce stopped Dubois in 10 rounds in 2020. A rematch, however, is not likely anytime soon as Dubois is scheduled to face Jarrell Miller on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua vs. Otto Wallin card on Dec. 23 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“It will be a great rematch,” Salas said. “A very interesting fight for each guy.”
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.