The stakes have never been higher for Joe Joyce. In April, the amiable Londoner was on the verge of a heavyweight world title shot. The only remaining obstacle was Zhilei Zhang.
Everything went wrong for ‘The Juggernaut’. The Chinese fighter was too slick, quick and tough on the night. Joyce kept trying to rumble forward but was constantly walking into sharp, accurate punches. Halfway through the sixth round, the fight was stopped due to damage around Joyce’s right eye. Zhang was the new WBO Interim champion.
“You don’t take food from a tiger”
“I think there was moments in there where I was starting to get to work but the eye clearly was starting to close,” Joyce said. “I threw more punches but he kept hitting me with the more eye catching, heavier blows. They were very quick. He’s a good fighter. It’s a tough test but it’s something that I’ve really got up for. It’s a big test that I need to crash through. Or jump over.”
Zhang cut a jovial figure back in April but seemed much more businesslike this time around. His team had begun to talk about a massive, mega money clash with Tyson Fury before Joyce scuppered any ideas they may have had by activating his rematch clause. It sounds like he is intent on punishing Joyce for ruining his plans. For the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
“I really enjoyed myself after the first victory back in April. I saw Joe today and he is trying to rip the title back,” Zhang said. “I just want to say that I’m the tiger and you don’t take food out of a tiger’s mouth.
“For the first fight you gave me an opportunity or your team made a mistake in choosing me. Going for the rematch was a bigger mistake. I’m here to end your career.”
“Well let’s see it then,” said Joyce. “Let’s have it.”
“Small changes make a big difference”
Much has been made about Joyce’s preparation for the first fight. He and his team have admitted they may have made the terrible mistake of overlooking Zhang and he also came in 16lbs lighter than he did for his fight with Joseph Parker. He is certain that they have got things right this time around.
“It exposed a lot of mistakes that me and the team made in the camp. It’s about correcting those. Looking at the next fights – not overlooking Zhang – but we need to get those things right,” he said. “It exposed them and really made me focus and get more dedicated at what I’m doing. Improving and to come back stronger and grab that title back.
“It’s just small changes. A lot of small changes make a big difference and that’s what we’ve done.”
“[The weight] was the sole focus of the post fight comments so it was something that I needed to correct but it was amongst a lot more different things and different aspects of the camp that I needed to build on,” he said. “I’ve made sure that I’ve ticked every box. Crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. And try to not get my eye blacked.”
“This is very serious stuff”
Zhang didn’t seem particularly impressed – or worried – by Joyce’s thoughts. He has added a new strength and conditioning coach, a masseur and a therapist to his team to ensure he is in the best shape possible and has also tried to cover all bases inside the ring.
“In this camp I have three different sparring partners,” he said. “I have one that shows more punches than Joe. I have one that hits harder than Joe and I have one weighs a lot more than Joe. In China we have a saying that pressure makes diamonds but pressure also bust pipes.
“I wouldn’t say repeat but it’s going to be more exciting than April. Tune in.”
As for Joyce, he knows that this is the most important fight of his life. If he can’t get past Zhang this time his dreams of winning a world title could suffer an irreparable blow.
“This is very serious stuff,” he said. “I’ve trained seriously for this. It’s about time I get my success and move on from this. It’s going to be a great fight. I’m looking forward to getting the victory on Saturday night.”