Joe Joyce says he corrected mistakes from last camp: ‘I know I can beat Zhang this time’
Heavyweight contender Joe Joyce was running through his opposition and looked primed for a shot at the world title before he hit a road bump in the form of Zhilei Zhang. The big Chinese fighter held firm and used his southpaw stance to flummox Joyce and repeatedly beat him to the punch, causing the Brit’s right eye to swell shut, leading to the fight being stopped in the sixth round.
Fast forward five months and the two big men will collide in a rematch at the OVO Arena in London this Saturday.
Joyce, The Ring’s No. 6 ranked heavyweight, is determined to show that the first fight was just a blip and gain revenge against the only man to have beaten him as a professional.
“I’ve put my body and mind through a good camp and have corrected a lot of mistakes I made in the last camp and I’m ready and raring to go,” Joyce (15-1, 14 knockouts) told The Ring. “I know I can beat him this time and that’s what I’m going for. After that I’ll be back in position.”
Having shared the ring together for six rounds, Joyce is more aware of what is in front of him this time.
“He’s a tricky southpaw, he’s a very good counterpuncher and he let me know with tagging my eye and aiming for the eye a lot,” said the 2016 Olympic silver medalist. “It was a tough night at the office. I had to take some heavy punches. I felt like I was starting to warm into the fight when it was stopped. I felt like I could continue. I didn’t lose by getting knocked out.”
Joyce, who turned 38 yesterday, never got going in the first fight and was made to look decidedly average. He had to go back to the drawing board with his coach the much feted Ismael Salas and has been in Las Vegas training since early July, making the necessary adjustments.
“It’s just minor things, it’s a lot of little bits and pieces,” he explained. “My focus and dedication in camp, more practice with fighting southpaws, better defense. Lots of little improvements but when you put them altogether it’s a whole lot more than the last camp.”
Heading into the first fight Joyce was coming off the most impressive performance of his career, having stopped former WBO titleholder Joseph Parker (KO 11).
Joyce admits that that win saw him start to believe in his own press clippings a little too much and led him to lose focus.
“When you’re in that position and everybody is talking about you and saying, ‘You’ve got a granite chin, you’re top 5 or top 3,’ it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and start taking your eye off the ball,” he said. “Zhang was dedicated and focused on one mission and he managed to pull it off. Now it’s the other way around, I’ve got more to prove. I’ve got to get back that WBO [Interim] title. I’ve had a lot of more time to think and reflect and get better.”
But why will it be better and not the same this time?
“It’ll be better this time because I’m more prepared, heavier, more practice fighting southpaws and working on my tactics,” he explained. “I’ve watched the fight back and critiqued it with my coaches and got a better plan going in. I’m more dedicated and focused on what I need to do this time and not overlooking him at all. I made a lot of mistakes in the last camp, which I rectified for this one.”
The big Londoner says he didn’t have to face Zhang in a direct rematch but felt that it was the best and quickest way to earning a shot at the heavyweight title so invoked his rematch clause.
“There’s a lot of pressure at this level, if I didn’t take the rematch there’s time pressure to get back in line and get a shot,” he explained. “It’s a big risk fighting him but there’s big rewards as well, you get back in position in time for the mandatories to be called.
“[A win] would set me nicely for a [Oleksandr] Usyk fight, who is a southpaw and also [Tyson] Fury who can switch, which is why I took Zhang in the first place because he’s top 15, he’s experienced fighter. It’ll be all the better once I beat him.”
Can Zhang prove himself the better man again or can Joyce figure out a way to turn the tables on his Chinese rival? It’s high stakes and a fight neither can afford to lose at this stages of the respective careers if they are to get a world title fight soon. If Joyce can start fast and not be caught out by the southpaw stance, like last time, he has a chance. I see this as pretty much 50/50.
Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs), The Ring’s No. 4 ranked heavyweight, captured silver for China at the 2008 Olympics and lost narrowly to eventual gold medal winner Anthony Joshua at London 2012. “Big Bang” turned professional in 2014. His progress was slow until he stepped up and faced unbeaten Filip Hrgovic, losing a contentious 12-round unanimous decision.
However, the 40-year-old Chinese southpaw scored a career best win over Joyce in April.
Zhang-Joyce 2, plus undercard action, will be broadcast live on ESPN at 2 p.m. ET/ 11 a.m. PT and at 7 p.m. on TNT Sports in the U.K.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on