Joe Joyce has made his name by doing things the hard way.
There have been no soft touches on Joyce’s journey through the heavyweight rankings and although his wince-inducing style of fighting is tough for his opponents to deal with, it also takes a lot out of himself. However, it is no exaggeration to say that things have never been harder or more important than they are now.
Joyce (15-1, 14 KO’s) has to get revenge over Zhilei Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KO’s) this weekend in their rematch for the WBO Interim heavyweight belt. A loss could deliver a near terminal blow to his hopes of winning a full version of the heavyweight title. For the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
“It’s a very, very important fight for Joe. He can’t afford to slip up,” Hall of Fame promoter, Frank Warren, told 32Red. “He’s 38 now. This will get him back into position to be the mandatory challenger for the WBO and he’ll get his title back as the WBO Interim champion.
“Joe wanted to get right back in”
“He can’t fall over. Otherwise it’s gonna take him a long, long while to get himself back into the position to challenge for a title.”
Zhang had his way with Joyce in April, landing at will and hurting the Londoner time and again. By the time the fight was waved off midway through the sixth round, Joyce’s right eye was swollen shut and he was forcing himself forward through willpower alone.
Joyce is 38, the heavyweight division is stagnant and there aren’t a host of other big fights available to him. Warren has proven to be a master of guiding fighters toward title shots and rebuilding them from hard defeats. But in this instance, it was agreed that there really was no other option for Joyce but to step straight back into the fire. If there is a bright side, so much went wrong in the first fight that the Olympic silver medallist and his trainer, Ismael Salas, have an enormous amount of room for improvement.
“He wanted to get right back in and I’ve gotta be honest, I agreed with him,” Warren said. “Look, that’s what he’s got to do and he’s capable of doing it. He was struggling a bit with the southpaw stance of Zhang but having said that, Zhang worked him out with the jab and was closing his eye up continuously with it. It’d have been interesting to see what would have happened if he hadn’t had that injury but he did. Now he’s gotta go out, change his gameplan and he’s gotta be at the top of his form to get this interim title back.”
“There’s a lot at stake”
Zhang is 40 years old but was something of a revelation first time around. He is a giant of a man and has an Olympic silver medal and a good professional record but his relatively fast hands, smart southpaw style and physicality still impressed. As poor as Joyce was, he is still a formidable force but he was unable to shake Zhang out of his rhythm at any stage. Joyce and Salas have both recently admitted that they maybe underestimated the Chinese fighter first time around. Warren didn’t overlook him but did expect Joyce to prevail.
“I thought he [Zhang] looked good against Filip Hrgovic and I could see that he would come to fight,” said Warren, who has a promotional deal with Zhang. “I thought he beat Hrgovic.
“I expected Joe to beat him to be honest. That’s why we agreed to the match. Having said that, the guy came and took his chance and that’s what happens in these positions. There’s a lot at stake, you can become the mandatory challenger in the sports biggest division and you know you’re gonna get paid lot of money if you challenge for the title. He went in and did what he had to do. One thing’s for sure, Zhang didn’t underestimate Joe.
“This time around, he knows what he’s got in front of him, he knows what he’s got to do and he cannot afford to slip up whatsoever.”