Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: Below-par Joyce had to chase immediate rematch with Zhang

I admire Joe Joyce for jumping straight back in with Zhilei Zhang. If I put myself in Joe’s shoes, I’d have wanted it straight away too. He wasn’t himself at all and he’ll know that.

If I was his trainer, I’d have wanted it too. As long as I knew he wasn’t past it then I’d wanna go for it. So much went wrong that we’d have plenty to work on. I thought with him having been a top amateur he’d have had an idea on handling southpaws but he looked lost. There are loads of subtle differences that could make a big difference.

There’s also his age to take into account. He’s 38 so where else is he gonna go? He has to take it. 

There’s so much to think about when it comes to rematches but most of it depends on the situation. How old is your fighter? Are they the finished article? Were there clear reasons for the loss? Here’s a good example – if I’d been training Daniel Dubois I wouldn’t have wanted to jump straight back in with Joyce after their fight. That would have been the wrong move. Dubois was young and had time on his side. I’d have been looking further down the line.

I knew Carl Thompson was gonna beat Chris Eubank first time in 1998 but that it’d be hard. I told Carl that Eubank would be better at cruiserweight than super middleweight at that stage. He was killing himself to do the weight. He even missed the cruiserweight limit by a pound or so. I think Carl was still a bit shocked at how good and tough Chris was. He’s one of the bravest people I’ve ever met.

When we got told they wanted the rematch six weeks afterwards I was licking my lips. I thought they were fucking crazy to put him back in the ring so soon. His eye was still black. We had the gentlest training camp ever and Carl listened. They stopped the rematch because of Eubank’s eye but that stopped him from taking a really bad beating. If I’d been in the opposite corner, they’d have had to give us a six-month break before I’d have even entertained a rematch

Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: Below-par Joyce had to chase immediate rematch with Zhang
Queensberry Promotions

There are two types of rematches you don’t want. 

If you’ve won a fight but it’s been a real war – one of those fights that could have gone either way – what the fuck do you wanna go there again for? The fans and television might wanna see it again but as a trainer you don’t. It’s horrible when you’re in the corner for fights like that. I won’t even re-watch the fight between Matthew Macklin and Jamie Moore in 2006. Even if we’d won I wouldn’t have wanted to be involved in that again. Although Ricky Hatton deserved to beat Luis Collazo that same year, Don King was going on about a rematch. I never wanted to see Collazo again. He couldn’t half fight.

Imagine you’ve got a young talented kid and you get offered a tough fight with another youngster or somebody a bit more seasoned and mature. You weigh things up for a while, decide your kid can do it and so you take a chance. Let’s say it goes wrong. You don’t want to jump straight back in. Look at Dennis McCann against Ionut Baluta. Dennis The Menace will fight anybody but needs to slow down a bit. He should definitely fight him again, just not yet. You don’t want to wear a young fighter out physically and mentally. Take your time, get him closer to being the finished article and fight him again. 

It isn’t a situation I’ve ever found myself in but it must take incredible mental strength to get back in the ring with somebody who’s either knocked you out cold or given you a real hiding. It’s why I’ve got a tonne of respect for Lennox Lewis. Look at what Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman did to him and he beat them both. There might be legitimate reasons behind the losses but when he closed his eyes at night the one thing he’ll have been agonising over is the thought of being flat on his back. Do you realise the embarrassment of getting knocked out in front of millions of people? If you lose a fight as an amateur it’s horrendous. Nobody can make you feel okay. It’s the worst thing in the world. It doesn’t matter what people say or whether they’re talking sense or not, it’s the worst feeling there is. Let alone getting knocked out cold in a heavyweight title fight. 

I agree with how he approached both rematches. With McCall, I wouldn’t have taken him again immediately. Lewis was an Olympic champion and wasn’t remotely close to touching his potential. I’d have known we had to fight McCall again but I’d have waited and improved. I’d have wanted to go straight into the Rahman rematch though. It was well known that he hadn’t trained properly or taken it seriously and Lewis had shown the mental strength to come back from a knockout before.

See what I mean? It all depends on the fighter – and the stage of their career they’re at.