Joe Joyce is sure he will be better prepared to deal with Zhilei Zhang in their upcoming rematch.
The big British heavyweight admitted during a recent interview with Sky Sports that he might’ve overlooked Zhang entering their fight for Joyce’s WBO interim championship April 15 in London. The then-undefeated Joyce was a 9-1 favorite, but Zhang continually connected with his left hand, caused severe swelling around Joyce’s right eye and won their bout by sixth-round technical knockout at Copper Box Arena.
The 6-foot-6, 256-pound Joyce expected Zhang to fade during the second half of their 12-round bout because fatigue affected Zhang in previous appearances, most notably in his close unanimous-decision defeat to Filip Hrgovic in August 2022 and his 10-round majority draw with Jerry Forrest in February 2021. The 6-foot-6, 278-pound Zhang was aggressive and accurate, though, and eventually forced a British Boxing Board of Control physician to instruct referee Howard Foster to stop their fight less than halfway into it.
China’s Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) is slightly favored to win their rematch September 23 at OVO Arena Wembley in London.
“If you look at my previous fights, each fight I change a little bit depending on the opponent,” Joyce told Sky Sports for a story posted recently to the British sports channel’s website. “I maybe underestimate Zhang a little bit, thought I would get him out of there in the later rounds. Obviously, he was very fast and accurate with the left hand and the counter shots. But this time it’s going to be different because I’m more motivated and switched on than ever.”
Despite Zhang’s success, London’s Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) led the strong southpaw by one point, 48-47, on one scorecard and trailed by a single point, 47-48, according to two judges entering the sixth round. Joyce sensed that Zhang had started to feel fatigued by the time the sixth round began as well.
“I was still in there and I was quite successful with the amount of shots I threw and landed,” Joyce said. “And if it wasn’t for the eye I think he was starting to tire mid-to-late rounds. He also knows that, so he’s been training hard as well. But I think I’m going to get him this time.”
The 12-round rematch between Zhang, 40, and Joyce, 37, will be broadcast by TNT Sports in the United Kingdom and Ireland. ESPN+ will stream their second fight in the United States.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.