Copper Box Arena, London - Chinese southpaw Zhilei Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) earned the most important victory of his career with a stunning sixth-round TKO over undefeated hometown hero Joe Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs).
Zhang stunned Joyce with sharp left hands in the first two rounds. In the following round, Joyce tried to step up his offense, but his inability to see Zhang’s left hand stunted his momentum.
In rounds four and five, Zhang began comfortably landing his shots from close range, using his high guard defense to avoid return fire as Joyce’s right eye began to swell. Joyce was really upping his workrate and coming forward with his usual variety of heavy punches, but Zhang was landing the bigger punches.
After two inspections from the ringside doctor, referee Howard Foster was forced to end the fight at 1:23 of round six.
Zhang said, “Today belongs to me. It belongs to everyone who showed up. It belongs to every Chinese person who showed up today.
“I’m 39 years old. But I’m disciplined. I train hard. The next step is for me to fight for a world title."
Zhang bounces back after losing a controversial twelve round decision at the hands of Filip Hrgovic in their IBF final eliminator.
The win over Joyce provides Zhang with the WBO interim-heavyweight title, which places him directly in line for a mandatory crack at the WBO, IBF, IBO, WBA world champion Oleksandr Usyk.
Zhang will have to stay active in the meantime, as Usyk's next mandatory obligation is to the WBA, with 'regular' champion Daniel Dubois in talks to face him before the end of the year. And next up, should Usyk win, would be the IBF's mandatory challenger Hrgovic.