Saturday night sees the latest appearance of the world’s most unique heavyweight.
Joe Joyce has a degree in fine art, his own personal take on trash talk and a relentless high stakes style of fighting. But it is his willingness to risk his ranking, record and reputation against the most dangerous available opposition that marks the 37-year-old out as a little bit different.
Those who only follow boxing through newspaper headlines must get the impression that the world’s leading heavyweights seem to be doing everything in their power to avoid making the biggest fights possible. Joyce’s popularity is growing because the fans realise he is charging headlong into them.
Joyce has beaten Daniel Dubois, Carlos Takam and Joseph Parker over the past couple of years, Should he beat Zhilei Zhang, nobody will be able to deny him his spot at boxing’s top table. The Londoner is the form fighter in the heavyweight division and the only challenges left for Joyce will be the men who have inhabited the top of the heavyweight division for years. For the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
His old amateur rival Oleksandr Usyk holds the full version of the WBO title, Tyson Fury fights under the same promotional banner, Deontay Wilder remains a must see attraction and his name has been linked to Anthony Joshua recently.
All of this begs the question as to why Joyce would take on a dangerous, heavy-handed giant like Zhang with his dream within touching distance.
“Why not get everyone entertained with a great fight?”
“Because I’m ‘The Juggernaut’” Joyce (15-0, 14 KO’s) laughed this week. “I’m a tough man. I started rugby and went through all the sports and finally found my thing in boxing.
“I’m so close. I’ve got the WBO interim title but all the others seem to be running scared or doing their own little thing but I want the fights to happen. I’ve gotta deal with the way things work with the governing bodies and fight whoever’s in front of me so why not get everybody entertained, fight Zilhei Zhang and have a great fight? I beat him and then I can go and challenge the rest of them.”
Some fights jump off the screen when they are announced. Joyce and Zhang look certain to put on a real crowd pleaser at the Copperbox on Saturday. Neither fighter is the type to navigate their way safely through twelve rounds, both will be looking to make an immediate impact on the other.
“Fight night is when it goes down. You get your boots on and your wraps done and you get in the ring and go and fight. That’s what’s exciting and what I love. When I’ve got somebody like ‘Big Bang’ waiting for me, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
“I’m looking forward to this fight. It’s why I love boxing. The crowd and excitement. I take myself away to Las Vegas to train my body and technique to come back here and put on a show and deliver great fights.
“I respect Zhang’s power so I won’t be going in there recklessly. He’s also a southpaw so he’s got a bit more of a tricky style than I’m used to. The last southpaw I fought was Lenroy Thomas in just my fourth fight.
“I don’t plan on going the distance”
“There are many ways I can win. Zhang looks tough to me. I know Filip Hrgovic is good and hit him with some good shots and he wasn’t going anywhere so this could go 12, who knows? I don’t plan on doing that because it’s a long time to be in the ring. I’d prefer to get him out of there sooner.”
Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KO’s) deserves plenty of credit for making the trip to London. He surprised many and was very unlucky to drop a decision to the highly rated Filip Hrgovic in their IBF final eliminator last August.
Instead of bemoaning the fact and treading water until another opportunity presented itself, Zhang has backed himself to take on the most physical test in the division although at 6ft 6in tall and around 270lbs, he isn’t exactly a waif himself.
Joyce’s interim WBO title is a pretty big carrot but there will have been plenty of other options for Zhang.
“When both teams met each other, we just said ‘Yes’. No question. I’m here for one reason. I’m here to become the strongest and best one and I know that to be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s what I do,” Zhang said this week.
“The translation of ‘Juggernaut’ in Chinese is red tank. That’s what we’ve been calling him. He’s got a tough chin and great stamina but I’m the ‘Big Bang’ around here and I’ll bang everything.
“I’m not here in London to sightsee”
“My trainer is from Brooklyn and he said we take things, we don’t ask for them. I’m not here in London to sightsee. I’m here to take things.”
Zhang has the size and power to cause Joyce problems. He may be a little more route one than fighters like Parker and Takam but Joyce has shown that if he can build momentum and start rolling forward, it is almost impossible to stop him.
It will be interesting to see how he handles somebody who may just be able to match him for pure physicality and carries the type of heavy clubbing power that might be able to dent that titanium chin.
“When you look at his previous fights, Joseph Parker and Daniel Dubois are both great fighters but look at Joseph Parker,” Zhang said. “He was fighting scared from round one, going backwards and running around the ring. When it comes to direct body contact there isn’t any solid punches landed on Joe Joyce. I’m gonna land my shots.
“Let’s find out what happens on Saturday when Joe gets hit.”