Joe Joyce Kashing in for Ali without Ismael Salas

Joe Joyce is preparing for next month’s fight with Kash Ali without Ismael Salas, his respected coach.

After successive and damaging defeats by China’s Zhilei Zhang, the 38 year old on March 16 fights Ali at Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena in an attempt to rebuild his career.

Joyce had been in contention to challenge Tyson Fury until, on an evening in April 2023 when he was an unusually light 18st 2lbs, he suffered a fractured orbital bone by his right eye – the same injury he once inflicted on Daniel Dubois when he recorded his finest victory – and lost for the first time when being stopped in six rounds.

Five months later he was a career-heaviest 20st 5lbs in an apparent attempt to enhance the once impressive punch resistance and the punching power that were undermined by his previously being lighter, and he was knocked out by a right hook to the head in the third round. 

On both occasions Joyce seemed under-prepared for Zhang’s southpaw stance, and Cuba’s Salas – recognised as one of the world’s leading trainers – has also conceded that he underestimated Zhang’s abilities.

Where Joyce had once seemed so likely an opponent for Fury, on December 23, when Dubois secured a career-best victory over Jarrell Miller and Filip Hrgovic – a controversial winner over Zhang and briefly in contention to replace Fury against Oleksandr Usyk before their date of February 17 was rearranged for May 18 – stopped Mark de Mori, Joyce was painfully far from the thoughts of the world’s leading heavyweights.

On that same evening Joseph Parker, who Joyce beat in 11 before he encountered Zhang, defeated Deontay Wilder, ensuring that on March 8 he will fight Zhang for the WBO interim title, when victory will take one or the other into contention to fight the winner of undisputed title fight between Fury and Usyk. 

After years of progress Joyce is instead fighting, in the 32-year-old Ali, his least proven opponent since 2018, and this time being guided by Steve Broughton – the trainer who, when the conditions of the Covid pandemic kept him from working with Salas, led him to his victory in 2020 over Dubois.

Joyce insists that he hasn’t severed ties with Cuba’s Salas and that his decision to prepare with Broughton in the UK is a reflection instead of Ali and the reduced finances involved in the lower-key date – after which he expects to secure a higher-profile fight.

“I’m back in training here in the UK and preparing for that fight,” he told ProBox TV. “After that we’re going to look at the heavyweight landscape; there’s a load of potential fights. Who wants to see me fight all of the top names; fight another big name after that? Get a nice win and then I’ll be back in [the mix].

“I am working with Salas [long-term]. I’m working with Steve Broughton – he’s been with me from the beginning, as well as Salas. He works alongside Salas, so he knows, and he’s grown his approach as well.

“Fighting Kash Ali doesn’t warrant a Vegas camp [Salas’ gym is in Las Vegas] – it’s quite expensive doing them camps out there.

“They haven’t told me anything yet [about my plans for after Ali], but there’s a bigger fight against some big names. Let me deal with Kash Ali, get a nice win and then I’ll talk after that.” 

If Joyce’s power was undermined by his being lighter in his first fight against Zhang, for the rematch his increased weight – and he is incredibly naturally athletic – perhaps even made him sluggish. 

“I prepared the best I could but Zhang was the better man,” he continued. “Styles make fights – it was a different style for me to take on. Zhang’s a great fighter – he’s got a great chin and great timing and speed, and he’s a tough guy. He’s a problem for anyone, and maybe has been avoided. 

“I’m not worried about weight. Who cares about weight? It’s just about the wins, not the weight. I don’t care [what I weigh]. As long as I’m strong and agile enough to stay out of the way of punches and hit them with a big shot.”