Zhilei Zhang returned to London this evening to rematch Joe Joyce nearly six months on from his sixth round stoppage over the Englishman.
Promoter Frank Warren stated at Thursday's official press conference that ‘the winner will take a seat at the top table’ of the heavyweight division. The WBO interim title was on the line in London once again, the winner to get a crack at the champion Oleksandr Usyk at some point in 2024.
Joyce had a lot of critics to quash following a less than impressive six rounds against the Chinese southpaw this past April. Both camps exposed their knockout intentions in the fight-week buildup.
The 1st round began with both hitting the center of the ring, but saw a tentative opening from both men. Zhang released a left hand upstairs as Joyce opted for odd jabs to the body. There was little else to report from the opening three minutes. The promised blood bath looked miles away at this stage.
Zhang rejected his stool ahead of round 2. Zhang landed two good left hands to the head of Joyce in short succession. Joyce was rocked by another just just 20 seconds later, and was again caught against the ropes. Joyce did well to come back with a combination to the body. However, the round ended with Joyce taking a good number of solid power shots. The course of the rematch was already looking similar to the first bout.
Round 3 saw Zhang begin with the rhythm boxing fans enjoyed in April, he was oozing confidence yet again. Joyce was predictable to say the very least as Zhang let rip with countless precise left hands, many to the right eye he damaged so badly months ago. Zhang’s left hand was on point relentlessly with the left all night. The end was looking close in round 2, Zhang was not letting Joyce off the hook over the next three minutes. The Chinese southpaw looked levels above the Putney man as he went for the stoppage, another left hand landed followed by a right hook to send Joyce falling face first into the canvas. Zhang was already celebrating as Joyce admirably slowly rose on the count of 9, but referee Steve Gray waved the heavyweight rematch off with a couple of seconds left in the round.
Zhang flys home looking for a seat at the top table of the heavyweight division. He sits in pole position to face current WBO heavyweight world champion Olkesandr Usyk after retaining his interim title. However, he yelled to the fans in the post fight interview “do you want to see me shut Tyson Fury up?”
Zhang’s record improves to 26-1-1 (21 KOs) after promising "to lot leave it with the judges." Joyce goes home with a second defeat to his name and a second stoppage to match moving his record to 15-2 (14 KOs).