Zhilei Zhang took Joe Joyce’s power without incident April 15.
The gigantic Chinese heavyweight has previously displayed a reliable chin during his nine-year professional career, including during his close 12-round, unanimous-decision loss to undefeated Filip Hrgovic 13 months ago at Jeddah Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist has been down only once in 27 pro bouts, in the fourth round of an eventual four-round points win against Juan Goode in November 2015 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
“He’s got a good chin,” Joyce told BoxingScene.com. “He’s tough. He’s a very tough fighter. Maybe I underestimated him a little bit as well. Even though I knew what he had, I thought I would be enough to beat him that night. But I believe I’ve got enough this time around to do the business.”
That business, according to Joyce, could conclude with him returning the favor by stopping Zhang in their 12-round rematch Saturday night at OVO Arena Wembley in London.
“Yeah,” Joyce said, “I think he’s capable of getting stopped.”
The 38-year-old Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) will have to be much more effective defensively to have any chance at stopping Zhang, a 6-foot-6, 278-pound southpaw who won the WBO interim title from him five months ago at Copper Box Arena in London. The faster, strong Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) repeatedly landed his left hand during that fight, which caused severe swelling around Joyce’s right eye and led to their 12-round bout being stopped at 1:23 of the sixth round.
The 6-foot-6, 256-pound Joyce never went down during their five-plus rounds of action, but Zhang believes he hurt the durable contender during their fight. Joyce was still standing when referee Howard Foster stopped their bout on the advice of a British Boxing Board of Control physician.
Zhang told BoxingScene.com during a recent interview that none of Joyce’s punches hurt him and that he was surprised his huge opponent didn’t hit harder than he did.
“Hrgovic punches a little bit harder than Joe,” Zhang said, “and I think Hrgovic actually throws more punches.”
The 40-year-old Zhang and American contender Bryant Jennings are the only opponents Joyce hasn’t knocked out since he made his pro debut in October 2017. Philadelphia’s Jennings (24-4, 14 KOs) took Joyce the distance in a 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat in July 2019 at O2 Arena in London.
Zhang-Joyce II will be the main event of a TNT Sports telecast in the United Kingdom and Ireland (7 p.m. BST). ESPN+ will stream it as the main event of a doubleheader scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. EDT in the United States.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.