Zhilei Zhang: "Frustrating" September rematch with Joe Joyce almost done

Zhilei Zhang is “more than 60 per cent” certain he will fight Joe Joyce in a rematch in September.

The 37-year-old Joyce activated his clause for an immediate rematch having unexpectedly been stopped by Zhang at London’s Copper Box Arena in April when swelling around Joyce’s right eye forced the referee to rescue him in the sixth round.

Joyce had been on course to become Tyson Fury’s next challenger. Zhang, having beaten him, is also a potential future opponent for Fury and may even have been next had Joyce not exercised his right for a rematch.

Fury’s co-promoter Bob Arum last week told ProBox TV he expects Fury to fight again on September 2, and it increasingly seems likely that the rematch between Joyce and Zhang will be on the undercard and could even determine who next fights the WBC heavyweight champion.

“It looks like the rematch is the direction we’re heading in, but we’re still trying to figure out all the details,” the 40-year-old Zhang told ProBox TV. “At one point I believe the Tyson Fury fight was on the radar for both teams, but it’s the rematch that got in the way, so that’s the direction we’re heading in.

“It’s up there. I would say a little more than 60 per cent [likely].

“We’re looking at – what Frank Warren said was September – and that’s what we’re looking at right now. But it’s not my job. I just train – do my training every day.

“I would have chosen to fight one or two interim fights if I was him. I don’t know why his team is in such a rush to make it happen. I feel like his team made a mistake for the first fight, and now they’re probably going to make the second mistake, and if I beat Joe Joyce again his career’s going to end.

“Their team didn’t do comprehensive homework on what I do; what I am. They need to study me more. That’s the mistake. They underestimated me.”

That Joyce was in a position to force a rematch is a reflection of the modern-day culture in boxing of rematch clauses being included in the contracts for fights. They are increasingly preventing more essential fights from being agreed, and asked of their existence, Zhang said: “The frustration was there. I originally thought he maybe wanted step-aside money [to allow me to fight Fury]; right now it looks like it’s heading in that direction [of a rematch] but it is what it is.

“[Fury’s] pretty well-known in China. I really want the whole Chinese population to see the first Chinese heavyweight champion. Tyson Fury’s really well-known but not as well-known as I am.

“I believe our teams are working on [a fight eventually happening in Beijing] aggressively.

“In a lot of cases, especially my case, I feel like the rematch is not necessary. Everybody saw what happened in the first match. Do we really need to see the rematch? I had to sign the rematch clause in order to get Joe Joyce. They’re unhelpful.”

Asked of the fact Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are still so far from fighting, he then said: “One day it looks like it’s happening; the other day the negotiations went wrong, so you never know. What the boxing world and fans need and want to see is the strongest fighting the strongest. 

“What I want to see is the strongest fighting the strongest. A lot of things get in the way. It seems like on the business side it’s out of fighters’ control.

“Usyk has a lot of skill, and his skill set is unbelievable. But Tyson Fury’s got almost every advantage you can get. The height. The reach. The distance, and the slickness. Tyson Fury prevails. But we’ll see.”