Zhilei Zhang battered Joe Joyce en route to a sixth round stoppage today in London, a notable upset in the heavyweight division, and one that shifts the landscape at that weight, at least for a moment.
Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KO) basically couldn’t miss with his left hand, and though Joyce (15-1, 14 KO) has the deserved reputation for maybe having the best chin in boxing, you can’t do much about an eye that winds up such a mess that a physician and referee basically have no choice but to stop the fight.
The win gives Zhang, 39, the interim WBO title, and in theory a shot lined up at Oleksandr Usyk in the future, but it’s also the third-place spot in line for Usyk’s mandatory situations, and this fight did have a rematch clause.
Joyce, 37, showed his great durability and chin as usual, but the damage was just being done constantly, and if Joyce wanted to make this fight about the second half and testing Zhang’s conditioning — which has been a problem before — he simply ate too many shots for that to become an option.
CompuBox saw Zhang landing 78 of 140 power shots, which is about a 56% clip, and simply too dangerous. Joyce, on the other hand, landed 60 of 253 power shots (24%), and 36 of those were to the body, where he was looking to do some damage but just didn’t have the time.
Overall, Joyce actually out-landed Zhang, 85 to 82, but the harder, more telling shots were almost all from Zhang. 25 of Joyce’s landed shots were jabs, and a lot of those were just poking shots, trying to keep Zhang at bay and dictate the tempo, which just didn’t happen.
It’s a rough loss for Joyce, and not only takes him out of the line for a mando shot at Usyk, but it also removes the chance that he might get the big, in-house call for Tyson Fury next.
Zhang, meanwhile, could now be an option for Fury and a WBC title shot. While there is a reported rematch clause, if Joyce has a broken orbital, that could take a while.
“I’m 39 years old, but I’m disciplined, I train hard. Next step, I’m going for the title,” Zhang said through an interpreter.
“I’m just disappointed with my performance. The (left) hand he kept hitting me with, I couldn’t get out of the way,” Joyce admitted. “Respect to Zhilei Zhang, it was a good fight. I think I could have done better. I hadn’t fought a southpaw for so long. And credit to him, because he’s a good fighter. I gave it my all. I think I could do better, but it’s just disappointing. I expected to win like I normally do. But thanks for all the support, and congratulations (to Zhang).”
Joyce vs Zhang highlights
Undercard highlights and results
- Mikaela Mayer UD-10 Lucy Wildheart: Scores were 98-91, 98-92, and 100-90, and Mayer (18-1, 5 KO) now has the interim WBC lightweight title, which didn’t really need to be on the line, and certainly not for this fight, but whatever. Wildheart (10-2, 4 KO) came in on a day’s notice and while she had been training, stepping in against a world class opponent like Mayer is always a big ask. She did herself proud and will get more dates between 126 and 135 lbs against good opponents from this fight. It wasn’t debatable or all that close, but she was game, solid, and showed a lot of fight in there. Mayer still wants an Alycia Baumgardner rematch at 130, but she’s long wanted the move to 130 and a possible Katie Taylor fight, and now she has potential options if one or the other doesn’t happen.
- Moses Itauma PTS-6 Kostiantyn Dovbyshchenko: A “rounds” fight for Itauma (3-0, 2 KO), whose first two fights barely lasted over a minute combined. Itauma did not try to get a stoppage here; he could have if he’d wanted to, but to his credit, Dovbyshchenko (9-13-1, 6 KO) was tough and stayed up on some shots that other fighters would have gone down from, so there is that. But Itauma never truly tried here, never pressed at all.
- Sam Noakes TKO-2 Karthik Sathish Kumar: Nothing test for Noakes, who goes to 11-0 (11 KO), dropping Kumar (10-1, 4 KO) late in the first round and then the referee stepped in midway through the second because how much more of this did anyone need to see? Kumar was miles out of his depth and had no business fighting this guy. Noakes is the rare Brit fighter who just truly has power, real, raw power, and he’s putting it to good use, but Kumar was kinda just standing there.
- Denzel Bentley KO-1 Kieran Smith: Wasn’t part of the ESPN+ broadcast in the States, but Bentley (18-2-1, 15 KO) made quick work of Smith (18-2, 7 KO), knocking him out in 45 seconds to retain the British middleweight title.