Heartbreak for Joe Joyce as Zhilei Zhang delivers on his promise to stop him early, doing so with a clear knockout of the year contender.
Joyce deserves respect for taking the rematch in London just five months on from a loss that was, in short, devastating. He looked bamboozled by Zhang’s southpaw stance in their first encounter, leading to an already hittable fighter becoming unmissable. A seriously swollen eye in the sixth led the referee to call it.
For the result to change, the experts said that sparring must be better, the eye must be healed and he must come in heavier. He entered the ring the biggest of his career, so at least one of the above was confirmed – but how much can a fighter really change at 38-years-old?
Zhang was as confident as could be, and promised that he would end it even earlier this time around. He also weighed in a career heaviest – the two men tipping the scales at a combined 568 pounds, or four Teofimo Lopez’s.
Joyce started immediately with a left-moving rotation in the centre of the ring as the big men sized each other up for the second time this year. He pawed out the jab whilst Zhang bided his time. Nothing of note in the first.
Zhang started the second a little busier, and soon exploded into action by rocking Joyce with a straight left. Scarily reminiscent of the first bout for the Brit. Joyce fought on, but was caught by another lethal combo before the bell.
Good head movement from Zhang as Joyce came out in the third with the intent to establish some control. Zhang was so comfortable though, and was landing at will soon. Sharp, punishing blows.
An incredible, thudding right hook from Zhang – felt by every viewer because of the timing and the fact Joyce leant into it – and that was it in round three.
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It’s a strange and jarring sight to see Joyce down and so hurt. He managed up, but there was no argument for the fight to continue after the punch with a full 290lbs behind it.
He faces a tough decision now. There will be calls to hang up the gloves.
Zhang, at 40-years-old, is first in line for a shot at a world title – and nobody can say it’s not deserved. Despite being mandatory for Oleksandr Usyk, he called out Tyson Fury. Let’s see it.