Joe Joyce has a mountain to climb this weekend when he bids to gain revenge over Zhilei Zhang and regain his WBO Interim heavyweight title. Zhang comprehensively beat Joyce back in April, busting up the Londoner’s eye and forcing a stoppage in the sixth round. For the latest fight odds, visit our sportsbook.
Joyce doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Lennox Lewis reversed his knock-out defeats to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman and Anthony Joshua outpointed Andy Ruiz just six months after being taken apart by the Mexican American at Madison Square Garden. It can be done, but it doesn’t happen particularly often.
Joyce needs to be more mobile
Joyce isn’t without hope and so much went wrong for him and his coach, Ismael Salas, in the first meeting that they have acres of room for improvement.
The worry for Joyce is that even if he does turn in a markedly improved performance, Zhang will be fully prepared to deal with it. The Chinese fighter is unlikely to be faced with any mind-bending surprises. Joyce isn’t going to get up on his toes, flick out a jab and paint a twelve round masterpiece. Neither is he going to turn into the reincarnation of Pernell Whitaker and stand right in the pocket, making Zhang miss with upper body movement. Zhang is probably expecting the Joyce he prepared for the first time around.
The Londoner can make two massive adjustments though. Firstly, he needs to move his head after he punches. At this stage of his career, Joyce is never going to be elusive; but he can’t present Zhang with such a stationary target again. He also needs to try and make sure he manoeuvres Zhang the correct way around the ring. Joyce seemed bamboozled by the southpaw style, never looking like finding a way to take away Zhang’s movement.
Otherwise, he needs to improve every aspect of his natural, bruising style. He needs to be heavier and stronger. His jab needs to be faster and he needs to hit everything he can see and trust his chin – and face – to hold up.
The logical pick has to be Zhang
Joyce has the power and determination to turn this around but his natural attributes won’t come into play if Zhang doesn’t have to pay a price for his success.
Zhang doesn’t have to change anything. He was badly underestimated last time. The Olympic silver medallist was extremely unlucky to lose his previous fight with the highly rated Filip Hrgovic – the majority of observers thought he deserved to win – and found Joyce a simple task to solve. The only thing Zhang needs to be wary of is complacency. But with a mandatory shot at the world title at stake, that seems unlikely. As long as he prepares for the best version of Joe Joyce – as we have to assume he did last time – then he must start as a big favourite.
And Zhang has to be the pick. Joyce can’t be written off totally but it just seems too tall a task. He needs to get slightly closer, slightly quicker. Get his left foot on the outside of Zhang’s right and establish his straight right hand and jab then he can wear down the 40 year old Chinese fighter as the fight goes past the halfway point. In fact, if Joyce gets past six rounds without having shipped too much damage then he may well become the favourite. A value bet may be for Joyce to wear down Zhang for a stoppage between rounds 9-10, available at 14/1.
However, fights which had such a conclusive result first time around rarely have a totally different outcome second time. The logical pick has to be for Zhang to land enough quick combinations early on and see off a better and more resilient Joyce to take a decision victory which is priced at 9/2.