Shaun George respects that Joe Joyce is a tough, determined man who will try his best to implement defensive improvements during his rematch with Zhilei Zhang.
The powerful Chinese southpaw’s trainer just doesn’t think those adjustments will be enough for Joyce to avenge his sixth-round, technical-knockout loss to Zhang in their second fight Saturday night. England’s Joyce was a 9-1 favorite in their first fight, but Zhang is slightly favored to win their 12-round rematch for the WBO interim heavyweight title at OVO Arena Wembley in London.
“I’m excited about Saturday,” George told BoxingScene.com. “Obviously, we had to take this fight because there was a rematch clause. And we are grateful for Joe Joyce and Team Joe Joyce for giving us the opportunity the first time around. But for me, it’s gonna be more of the same because Zhilei didn’t show you everything in April.”
Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) displayed speed and accuracy, particularly with his left hand, that caused severe swelling around Joyce’s right eye. The damage done to Joyce’s face caused referee Howard Foster to stop their scheduled 12-round bout at 1:23 of the sixth round April 15 at Copper Box Arena in London.
George, a retired light heavyweight from Brooklyn, has trained Zhilei to stop Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) inside the distance again. No matter how much the 2016 Olympic silver medalist has tried to change his habits while working with respected Cuban trainer Ismael Salas, George expects the 6-foot-6, 278-pound Zhilei to encounter a similar, defensively flawed fighter Saturday night to the one he beat five months ago.
“I’ve been watching Joe Joyce since 2014, before the American public had ever seen him, before a lot of people had seen him,” George said. “The first time I had seen him was in Halle, Germany. I think he fought Tony Yoka in the finals of that tournament. He has the same style now. Little differences here and there, his foot placements. But Joe Joyce is Joe Joyce.
“He’s gonna come forward, he’s gonna put pressure on you. He looks like he’s heavier this time around, so we know what he’s gonna try to do. We don’t care. We don’t care what they’re gonna try to do. I believe skills pay the bills. We know Zhilei has power and we know Zhilei has the hand speed, skill and boxing IQ to beat Joe Joyce.”
That said, George understands defeating Joyce a second time in the former champion’s hometown will be a difficult task.
“I’m expecting a tough fight,” George said. “I’m not thinking Zhilei is just gonna go in there and do the same thing. They’re gonna make adjustments. We know that Joe has willpower, we know that he has determination, and we know that he has defied the odds before. But not Saturday night. It’s gonna be a different Zhilei. Y’all are gonna see something different with Zhilei and y’all are gonna be like, ‘OK.’ He’s gonna be in [conversations] to fight and beat any of these world champions, especially Usyk.”
TNT Sports will broadcast the Zhang-Joyce rematch as the main event of a show scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. BST in the United Kingdom and Ireland. ESPN+ will stream the second bout between Zhang, 40, and Joyce, 38, as the headliner of a doubleheader that’ll start at 5 p.m. EDT and 2 p.m. PDT in the United States.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.