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Zhang vs Joyce 2: Who wins and how? Plus Hitchins vs Zepeda and more predictions!

Will Zhilei Zhang make it two straight, or can Joe Joyce get even?

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Will Zhilei Zhang beat Joe Joyce again in London?
Will Zhilei Zhang beat Joe Joyce again in London?

Zhilei Zhang and Joe Joyce meet again this Saturday in London, five months after Zhang upset Joyce and took his “0” in the same city.

Can “The Big Bang” make it 2-0 and keep his interim WBO heavyweight title, or will “The Juggernaut” get even this time around?

Plus: Richardson Hitchins steps up against Jose Zepeda and more!

Zhilei Zhang vs Joe Joyce 2

Scott Christ (76-30)

When we do these rematches, I never re-watch the first fight. I usually remember OK enough. But picking this one had been eating me up (I’m exaggerating) for the last week or so, and I went back to give the April fight another spin.

There’s a lot to like about what Zhang did beyond simply busting Joyce’s eye up and forcing a stoppage. Joyce just wasn’t having a lot of real success very often, and Zhang was the first guy able to really deter him much at all. But I still came away thinking that if Joyce had gotten the chance, he might have been able to break Zhang down in the second half. He has the better gas tank. He was just starting to find a little more going his way.

I think this is a toss-up. Both have five-and-a-half rounds to work from. Zhang may well come out even harder this time, looking to get to big Joe early, and Joyce can make some minor tweaks, stay in the fight, and get through it. But I just kept having the thought that Zhang might simply be a terrible matchup for Joe. I think he stops him “for real” this time. Zhang TKO-8

Wil Esco (85-21)

It’s hard for me to think that, despite Joy Joyce’s strengths, he can really reinvent himself or become something he already isn’t at age 38. That’s simply to say I think Zhilei Zhang is a poor matchup for Joyce and I don’t think Joyce is going to be able to employ a game plan that’s going to suit him all that much better this time around.

Sure, maybe he can try to avoid the significant eye damage that hampered him last time, but is he now all of the sudden going to be much more elusive or move his head and not come straight forward anymore? I don’t think so. Some have floated the idea that Joyce has learned his lesson from the last Zhang fight, but I’m smelling a repeat here with Zhang lining up some powerful straight shots. Zhang TKO-8

John Hansen (75-31)

Joe Joyce does not have to do much differently. He doesn’t need to radically change his style. He doesn’t need a revolutionary strategy. He just needs to occasionally protect his eyes. And you don’t have to magically wake up at the age of 38 having become Pernell Whitaker overnight to keep your hands higher up on your face once in a while.

Joyce builds momentum over the course of a fight, and Zhang runs out of steam in the later rounds. If Joyce can keep the soft and squishy bits of his face from betraying him, this still reads as an excellent matchup for him, even after the stoppage in the first fight.

He doesn’t need to shock the world with a flawless Philly shell. He doesn’t have to completely reinvent himself. All Joe Joyce needs to do is keep his hands closer to home more often than not for at least 18 minutes, and everything that doomed him last time is solved. Just do the bare minimum not to get his face broken, and this is a Joe Joyce fight. Joyce UD-12

Patrick Stumberg (81-25)

The argument for Joyce is that Zhang would have faded late if “The Juggernaut’s” face had remained intact. Rewatching the first fight, though, I’m not convinced. It’s not talked about as much as the barrage of lefts that forced the stoppage, but Zhang’s defense was absolutely on point that night; Joyce’s jab was a non-factor, his overhand rights bounced harmlessly off of Zhang’s forearm, and the body shots that were supposed to break “Big Bang” down failed to get past Zhang’s elbows. Even when Joyce showed a bit of life, you’d regularly see Zhang absorb a flurry with his guard and immediately answer with a no-telegraph straight left.

It’s not like the swelling was the only damage, either. Zhang visibly rattled Joyce at least once and regularly forced Joyce to back off and reset after getting hit. His power kept Joyce honest enough that he couldn’t push a heavy pace, and without the ability to land sustained damage or force Zhang to keep his 280 lbs of beef in motion, I’d imagine Zhang could keep it up for some time.

Rematches have been my Achilles heel in these picks, but I’m confident here. Whether it’s a cut or more swelling, Zhang piles up enough left hands to force another stoppage. Zhang TKO-7

Richardson Hitchins vs Jose Zepeda

Scott Christ (76-30)

In some ways, I think Zepeda, who is 34 now, has sometimes done his best work in defeat. He’s an odd fighter; at moments, explosive and great fun to watch, a tough out for just about anyone, and then at other moments and in other fights, just not very impressive, doesn’t look like a serious contender, like in his wins over Kendo Castaneda or a very aged Hank Lundy.

Hitchins is a lot better and less arrogant than Josue Vargas was coming in back in 2021, where Zepeda ended that dream in 105 seconds. Zepeda is more proven and certainly dangerous, but style-wise Hitchins has what should be some advantages, and while he’s not A Puncher, he’s got enough pop to keep opponents honest.

I suspect Hitchins gets the job done here, as he has in past step-up outings. He may not DOMINATE! but he will win and do so without real question, putting himself in the 140 top 10 and leaving Zepeda in need of another get-well and his fingers crossed to get back into the mix. Hitchins UD-12

Wil Esco (85-21)

I’m not a firm believer that Richardson Hitchins truly has what it takes to make it to the elite level, but I do think he’s good enough to get a win over Jose Zepeda, who probably is no longer in peak form. Hitchins isn’t much of a knockout puncher so far as I can tell, but I do think he’s fresh enough to keep a pace to outpoint Zepeda so long as he avoids making any big mistakes.

Hitchins is young and will be looking to raise his profile from this kind of fight, and while I don’t expect that Zepeda will make it easy on him, I do think he’ll lose a clear decision on points by the final bell. Hitchins UD-12

John Hansen (75-31)

Richardson Hitchins has the limitless potential of the untainted prospect on the rise. But Jose Zepeda is Jose Zepeda. He’s talented and blessed with good power, and he has a motor that doesn’t stop. A wrecked arm cost him his best shot at a world title, but his only other losses came to world class champions. And Hitchins is a prospect; nowhere near a champion yet.

We’ve seen Vargas as a betting underdog before, only to school another young prospect on the rise in Josue Vargas. I think Hitchins is better than Vargas, but I can’t say he’s in Zepeda’s league right now. That’s why they fight the fights, obviously. I suspect we’ll see that Jose Zepeda is not a gatekeeper yet, and that Hitchins took on too big of a challenge. Zepeda KO-10

Patrick Stumberg (81-25)

If you extrapolated a fighter out of only Zepeda’s best moments, there’s a good chance he’d be undisputed at 140. When everything clicks, “Chon” can seem like he’s levels above his opponents. Problem is, the real Zepeda is burdened by bursts of mediocrity. That’s what I can’t get over here; even if he’s Hitchins’ best opponent by a large margin, Hitchins’ height, reach, speed, and technique demand consistent high-level execution.

I don’t trust Zepeda to pull that off. Hitchins is too sharp for half-measures, so while it wouldn’t be Upset of the Year material if Zepeda clips him, odds are Hitchins survives a scare or two to stick-and-move his way to victory. Hitchins UD-12

Quick Picks!

Jessica McCaskill vs Sandy Ryan

  • Scott: Ryan MD-10 (In a way that leaves McCaskill very mad)
  • Wil: Ryan UD-10
  • John: McCaskill UD-10
  • Patrick: McCaskill SD-10

Austin Williams vs Steve Rolls

  • Scott: Williams UD-10
  • Wil: Williams TKO-6
  • John: Williams UD-10
  • Patrick: Williams UD-10

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