Zhilei Zhang Interview: “Fighting Joe Joyce was nice – rematch will end even sooner”

Daniel Dubois left home with an orbital fracture during his defeat against his British rival three years ago. Joseph Parker, who lost his world title to Anthony Joshua, called Joyce “the toughest challenge” after his defeat last September. And then there is Zhang.

“It’s quite nice to be in the ring with him,” he told Standard Sport, via Free Bets.

“He doesn’t move his head, he doesn’t change position or angle. It makes my work easier.

“The Juggernaut” was an apt nickname for Joyce, a man who was on his way to a world title through a series of relentless, if somewhat cumbersome, performances. That was until April 15 of this year at the Copper Box, when Zhang won his unbeaten record and with it the WBO interim title.

Joyce was seriously injured over the course of six punishing rounds before the referee ruled him out, leaving his right eye swollen and closed. The ease with which Zhang seemed to take his photos would have been equally alarming to him.

“He’s definitely heavy-handed, but not as heavy-handed as I would have expected,” Zhang says.

As it stands, Zhang will be in line for a mandatory shot against Oleksandr Usyk when the rotation system requires the Ukrainian to fulfill his WBO requirements.

To stay at the front of the queue, the 40-year-old must beat Joyce a second time, with the duo meeting on Saturday night at Wembley Arena after the British heavyweight activated his rematch clause.

Zhang was in talks during a summer fight with Tyson Fury before being informed that Joyce immediately wanted revenge.

“I was a little surprised when I first heard about the rematch,” admits Zhang.

“It’s in the contract, I knew he would activate it one way or another. But I didn’t expect it to be so fast. I would have expected him to fight one or two middle fights in between, get used to one style and then win the rematch.

Joyce’s greatest strength as a professional has been his durability, but this propensity to use a heretofore granite chin as his main line of defense proved problematic in April. Does Zhang expect a more cautious approach from his opponent this time?

“It’s not complicated to say that you can’t change your style in a few months,” says Zhang. “That’s why the second fight will end even faster.”

Only George Foreman has won a world heavyweight title over the age of 40, but Zhang is confident he can double the membership of that particular club as he eyes the belts held by Fury and Usyk.

“I don’t do anything but eat, sleep and train,” he says.

“At this age, I still feel like I can compete for the heavyweight title. I’m 100% convinced that I’m going to beat all of these guys.

standard Sport

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