Zhilei Zhang moves a step closer towards the elite of the heavyweight division after scoring a devastating 3rd round stoppage over fellow Olympic silver medalist Joe Joyce last night in London.
The Chinese southpaw returned to the English capital for the rematch, defending his WBO interim title that he snatched from the Londoner in their first meeting this past April. The ringside doctor halted the contest after six disastrous rounds where Joyce sustained a severe injury to his right eye. The second attempt ended in much more alarming circumstances, Zhang producing a potential Knockout of the Year.
“I wish I could say something colourful to you, but it played out the way we expected.” Zhang’s advisor Terry Lane said in an exclusive interview for ProBox TV. “We were prepared for him to move to his left a little more, which he was doing. But, how much can that work for you if you gain 25 pounds? He [Joyce] looked slower, he looked like a fish out of water for this fight, he looked like a fish out of water in the first fight. I don’t know the reason, was it too low a weight in the last fight and too high a weight this time? We don’t know. We were prepared for everything and we did expect this outcome.”
Zhang and his team oozed confidence all week, making no secret of their knockout intentions ahead of the rematch. Obviously, Zhang and his team stayed more than true to their word as the 40 year old colossus moved into pole position for the heavyweight champions.
“He’s the easiest client to work with.” Lane explained. “He’s a focused guy and always trying to improve, he’s not going to go back home and saying ‘I won the fight,’ he’s going to say, ‘what did I do wrong and how can I get better?’ It makes my life really easy actually. He and John George with Scooter, our new strength and conditioning coach, are going to get back in the lab and think about what we did wrong. Then we will question what we have to do to beat the Tyson Fury’s of the world, the Usyk’s of the world, the [Deontay] Wilder’s of the world. His takeaways from his fights are how he can improve, that’s just the type of guy he is.”
Zhang has experienced good fanfare while twice facing Joyce in a country that produces the vast majority of elite heavyweight encounters in the current day. His homeland has always been considered a lucrative new frontier in a sport that has no borders. The country’s 1.412 billion population coupled with the famous 80,000 capacity Bird’s Nest Stadium has had western promoters pondering a big fight in China for some time. Zhang may produce the perfect opportunity being in boxing’s most money laden weight class.
“I was involved since his pro debut, so I have been involved for many years.” Lane added. “Fighting on BT, TNT Sports or ESPN+, just by fighting on there, win, lose or draw, your profile grows. If you fight on many other platforms, nobody sees you. This has been a great step up recently just to get him known and seen. We have the [TV] rights in China too, millions and millions and millions of people have been watching him back there. Now, he is a legitimate sports superstar in China. He is getting near the highest level you can get in China, but he’s not quite there yet. If he were to fight Tyson Fury or someone like that, it would get him to David Beckham level status in China.
“Our first choice for the next fight is Tyson Fury! We are with the same promoter, but I think they are going to try and make a fight with Fury and Usyk. If they do make it, they make it. We are then going to look at other options, there are other big names out there that we will fight. But, if they don’t make that fight with Usyk, then I think we are going to fight Fury. We spoke with George Warren on Wednesday and there are some other options that could be exciting, we need to let some stuff play out and we will do some big things.”
It was blatantly clear that Team Zhang were fixated on Fury rather than Usyk. I pressed Lane on why?
“I think we are a really bad style matchup for Fury, really bad for him.” Lane explained. “He is the biggest name, the biggest payday, it is the best option. Again, we will have to wait a little to see which fights get made and which fights don’t get made, and we will have to go from there. He’s the Benjamin Button of boxing, he’s getting better in every training camp. I know it is not supposed to happen at 40 years old but yet it is happening, we are seeing it in front of our eyes. I think he still has a few years left.”