Joe Joyce is targeting a return from his first defeat as early as this summer.
The heavyweight, 37, lost for the first time, via stoppage, when in the sixth round of his fight with Zhilei Zhang on April 15 the ringside doctor ruled that the swelling around his right eye meant that he could not fight on.
Where he was considered Tyson Fury’s likeliest next challenger he is instead attempting to rebuild having lost on a night on which he was the favourite. He regardless also has a rematch clause he could yet exercise, and which could therefore mean him again fighting Zhang, 39, very soon.
“We’ve been chatting every day since he fought, and day by day he feels better,” his trainer, Ismael Salas, told ProBox TV. “The good news is there isn’t a broken eye socket – it was only swelling. In general, his health, which is my main concern, is very good.
“Joe Joyce can have two more fights this year. Boxing’s more business than anything – the only big choice for Zhang could be the rematch. People are not interested in [Fury-Zhang]. They’re more interested in [Fury] fighting someone else.
“[Joyce’s] confidence is there. If we have to fight, I believe we will beat Zhang.
“[Zhang’s] a very skilful fighter. [But] maybe, if we’d controlled the swelling – no problem. Fury’s too big. Too skilful. Too tricky [for Zhang], and has power. So that’s why he’s undefeated.
“Joe can continue as he was and [get] even better. Every heavyweight loses. Joe Louis. Muhammad Ali. Lennox Lewis. [Mike] Tyson. Tyson Fury and [Oleksandr] Usyk – these two never lost. But one day they will. This happens, and we just need to look forward.
“It will be somewhere in the summer.”
Joyce was little over 15lbs lighter than he was when defeating Joseph Parker in September and securing what was widely regarded as his finest win.
Salas reflects on Joyce’s weight against Zhang – in an attempt to use speed to defeat him – as a “mistake” because of a belief that being lighter undermined Joyce’s power, but he does not believe Joyce is showing signs of decline because of the punishment he has long taken, nor that he is vulnerable against southpaws.
“More than 20 times [I’ve watched it back],” the Cuban continued. “Joe was missing power behind his punches; it could be his bodyweight. He dropped too much. Compared to [against Joseph] Parker, it wasn’t the same balance.
“Joe punched much more than Zhang, but he didn’t have the sting behind his punches, and we’re looking for the reason why. He was light. He dropped too fast, too quick. It was a mistake.
“Everyone [in Joyce’s team] said he had to be lighter [to be fast against Zhang]. Zhang was starting to slow down – which was our main plan. We’ve been looking at many things.
“It’s hard for anyone undefeated to get their first loss, but one loss can make you think and review what you did and didn’t do. For the entire team.
“Joe has an amazing chin. His health is there. He’s had medical tests, and he’s fine.
“It can be that way [that Joyce struggles with southpaws] but round three he started to adjust and started to hit Zhang. [But] it was not the same power as Joe always has.”
Asked if Zhang had been better than they expected, the respected Salas then said, simply: “Yes.”