Joe Joyce’s promoter commended him for taking what Frank Warren perceives as a more difficult fight Saturday night than the unbeaten Brit needed to embrace while awaiting the title shot he is owed.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Joyce will defend his WBO interim heavyweight title against gigantic Chinese southpaw Zhang Zhilei in a 12-round main event at Copper Box Arena in London, Joyce’s hometown. Oddsmakers have installed Joyce (15-0, 14 KOs) as at least a 9-1 favorite, but Warren considers Zhilei very dangerous and thinks that the 2008 Olympic silver medalist did enough to beat another undefeated heavyweight, Filip Hrgovic, in his last fight.

The 6-foot-6, 277-pound Zhilei dropped Hrgovic in the first round and gave the Croatian contender trouble throughout their 12-round IBF elimination match August 20 at Jeddah Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Judges Leszek Jankowiak (115-112), Pawel Kardyni (114-113) and Robin Taylor (115-112) all scored their fight for Hrgovic, but Warren considers them to be in an extreme minority.

Warren discussed the scoring of Hrgovic-Zhilei and Joyce accepting Zhilei (24-1-1, 19 KOs) as his next opponent during an interview posted recently to the YouTube channel operated by his company, Queensberry Promotions.

“You’ve gotta take your hat off to [Joyce],” Warren said. “He didn’t need to take a tough guy like this. You know, the fact that he’s in that position, he’s got that mandatory slot there, or spot [with the WBO], and he could’ve had a marking time fight. But he’s not done that. He said, you know, he wants to fight a real, live opponent.

“We all see that Zhang is a live opponent when he fought Hrgovic, who’s now the number one mandatory for the IBF [title] to Usyk. And I thought [Zhilei] won that fight. I’ve gotta be honest – I’ve not spoken to anybody who thought Hrgovic won the fight other than his promoters and Hrgovic. Everybody else thought he got beat. So, that tells you a lot about Joe Joyce.”

The 37-year-old Joyce wanted to fight a left-handed opponent in hopes that it would help prepare the 2016 Olympic silver medalist for an eventual shot at IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO champ Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs). Unfortunately for Joyce, the unbeaten Ukrainian southpaw seems more likely later this year to fight WBA world champ Daniel Dubois (19-1, 18 KOs), the London native Joyce stopped in the 10th round of their November 2020 bout at Church House in London.

The 39-year-old Zhilei, who resides and trains in northern New Jersey, has lost only to Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) as a professional.

BT Sport 1 will air Joyce-Zhilei as a main event in the United Kingdom and Ireland (7 p.m. BST). Joyce-Zhilei will headline a card ESPN+ will stream in the United States, starting at 2 p.m. ET.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.