Being a 39-year old heavyweight isn’t a position built around long-term planning. 

Sure, there have been examples of big men who last a long time and heavyweights can last a little longer than their smaller peers, but 39 is still 39. Making the most of opportunities is critical. 

Zhang Zhilei came up just short last year against Filip Hrgovic. There were those who thought he did enough to win. The judges disagreed. A second consecutive loss would have been damaging, regardless of an Olympic Silver Medal pedigree. Zhilei used a quick, accurate, punishing left hand on Saturday to ensure his losing run would end at one.

Joyce, despite a limited set of fights so far, had already built a reputation around his big chin and bigger resolve. Zhilei rocked Joyce in spots over the weekend, but Joyce’s chin remained intact. The man can take a shot, even from another heavyweight standing 6’6 and weighing over 270 lbs.

Joyce’s chin can’t swell like his right eye did. 

Zhilei built what appeared a lead in the first two rounds and had an excellent fourth with a busy Joyce getting good work done in the third and simply outworking Zhilei in the fifth. Zhilei’s rounds were more impressive, his hand speed edge allowing him to catch Joyce first repeatedly. The attacks took a nasty toll.

At the start of the sixth, the ringside doctor took a long look at Joyce’s eye and allowed the fight to go on. Working with poise and sensing the moment, Zhilei went to work and found the eye several times. Joyce wasn’t seeing the incoming though he was still willing forward and letting his hands go. The doctor took a second look and saved Joyce from himself.

Just like that, Zhilei moves into the spot Joyce held as a mandatory to WBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk and Joyce takes a step back. 

Futures: Joyce is younger than Zhilei at 37 but that’s not exactly a recipe for a long shelf life, especially with a defense reliant on taking punches well until an opponent is battered into submission. Joyce will need recovery time but his best option is to be back in the ring as soon as he can. Given how sparing activity is right now, and how few belts there are to go around, a title shot could be a couple years away now under the best circumstances. Zhilei followed his first defeat by going right back at the best opponent he could get.

Joyce may want to do that same. There aren’t that many giant southpaws with the skill set and experience of Zhilei out there. The loss was no shame but it narrows Joyce’s options for now. 

For Zhilei, a career-best performance might not mean an immediate title shot but he’s in the driver's seat, at least as regards the WBO. How does he match up with the beltholders? He’s taller than Usyk and outweighs him by roughly fifty pounds. Zhilei would look up at lineal king Tyson Fury, but their weights would be in range of each other. 

Zhilei wasn’t expected to beat Joyce. He did. Zhilei likely wouldn’t be favored against Usyk or Fury, but once the bell rings he can make his own fortunes.      

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at