Joyce admits he took his eye off the prize against Zhang and knows what he needs to do

British heavyweight contender Joe Joyce goes back in with Chinese star Zhilei Zhang this weekend but this time with the challenger’s mindset.

Joyce opened up a strong favourite over Zhang when they met last time, at the Copper Box in April, but on Saturday (September 23) in Wembley Arena, Joyce has the opportunity to overturn the only blemish on his 15-1 (14 KOs) record.

Zhang stopped the seemingly unstoppable Juggernaut in six rounds after inflicting damage to Joyce’s right eye. Joyce, who has been preparing in Las Vegas, is now ready to flip the script and avenge that loss.

“[I’m] Feeling good, determined, switched on and focused to deliver a proper performance like I should’ve done last time and get back what’s mine,” said Joyce. “[I want to] Get the WBO Interim back and beat him [Zhilei Zhang]. Because, you know, maybe I took my eye off the prize a little bit, and I need to come back and get what’s mine. I’ve corrected all of the mistakes from the last fight in training camp etc, and this time I need to do a job on him, be switched on and I’m determined to get it back.”

Zhang was impressive last time out, to the extent that some were surprised Joyce activated the rematch clause while others struggle to see what Joyce can do differently against the towering southpaw. Joyce now understands that some are writing him off after his only loss as a professional to date. 

“Yeah, I feel like a bit more of an underdog, I guess there’s less pressure than last time where people were talking about who I’m going to fight next, and that I’ve got this indestructible chin, trying to jinx me,” Joyce went on. “I didn’t actually go down because of the chin, but I got stopped because of the eye, so…”

Referee Howard Foster waved it off following an inspection by the ringside doctor. Joyce cut a forlorn figure, but Zhang improved to 25-1-1.

“He was kind of better, quicker, he was lighting fast with the counters, the left straight counters,” Joyce admitted. “Maybe I underestimated him a bit, but if I’ve shared the ring with him, I’ll know what to expect this time around and I know what I need to do.”

Joyce appeared to be on the cusp of a huge fight. He boxed Oleksandr Usyk in the amateurs and that was talked about being revisited, Tyson Fury had mentioned Joyce’s name, too. Zhang put a stop to the momentum that the stunning win over Joseph Parker had given Joyce, and now the 37-year-old wants to put himself back in the frame with the biggest names in the sport. The rematch is also the chance to right the wrong from last time.

“Well, it’s everything,” Joyce said, of what is on the line. “To get back the WBO Interim, which puts me in line for the mandatories like nothing had happened. Once I get it back off him, then I’ll be in line for the mandatory calls against [Oleksandr] Uysk I believe, for the WBO. As it goes, the WBA; [Daniel] Dubois fought him, then IBF, and then the WBO, so once I get that back in time, then nothing will have changed. There’s no point in doing the other route, farting about, seeing if I can get a go elsewhere, I might as well just go back in the rematch. I thought I did well at stages in that [first] fight [with Zhang], had it gone longer and not for my eye, it could have been a different result, so, I’m more switched on and focused in and outside of camp, and in the fight. It’ll be a lot better this fight.” 

Joyce talks about the improvement in concentration and focus. Significant changes need to be made to topple Zhang. Not every fight for the Briton can be won by just grinding opponents down in the later rounds. That won’t work against everyone, and there were no real signs Zhang was going to crack, either.

“I’m going for the win this time, and I’ve done everything I can in training camp leading up, so I’m confident, I’m switched on and I’m focused,” Joyce concluded. “My body is in good shape. I’m heavier than the last fight, more experienced, well, [I’ve had] more practice with the southpaw stance so I think that should make the difference, but then equally, [Zhilei] Zhang has obviously shared the ring with me before, so he’s going to know what to expect as well. It’s gonna be a tough fight, but it’s one fight that I believe I can win.”