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Joyce vs Zhang: a preview

Someone’s ‘0' has to go

Undefeated* pugilistic pensioners Joe Joyce (thirty seven) and Zhilei Zhang (thirty nine) meet on Saturday night, in a heavyweight contest which intrigues at the promise of multiple different amusements.

Let’s start with Zhang.

A record that isn’t exactly dripping with household names is nothing to hold against the WBO’s number 13 ranked ‘big boy. There’s a draw against Jerry Forrest and a stoppage of Devin Vargas, but most beguiling is Zhang’s recent victory against Filip Hrgovic. Some of you will no doubt currently be sitting there going hold on a minute Zhang lost that fight, but we all know that there is a difference between not getting a decision and genuinely losing (don’t we John Ryder, Jack Catterall and Mohamed Mimoune…).

Zhang defeated Hrgovic in August 2022, only for the officials to 'judge' otherwise

At 39, and of comparatively low ranking, Zhang is unlikely to get a legitimate world title shot, but his concussive (19 stoppages in 25 victories), pedestrian style does in fact suit some interesting future match-ups (Joshua in the ‘Bird’s Nest’, anyone), especially now the likes of gatekeepers Chisora and Pulev are being pounded into senility. If he equips himself well on Saturday night (goes the distance/sees the late rounds/is competitive), there is every chance that another main event/chief support contest shall follow.

But onto Mr Joyce.

A decorated Olympian, yet a man who initially spluttered to excite once in the paid ranks,15-0 (with 14 KOs) Joyce (and I am proud to be writing this) is something of a renaissance man. Anyone who sat through his early fights, and rationally vowed to do anything rather than endure the same Sisyphean punishment again, would be excused for laughing, nay guffawing, at the sentiment on record here; but with a face-shattering win over Daniel Dubois, and successive stoppages of Takam, Hammer and Joseph Parker, Joseph Obey Joyce has been propelled himself into boxing fandom’s consciousness, mostly due to the fantastical where is his limit? debate.

Many would love to see his resilient chin challenge the mutant power of Wilder; others to see him contest Usyk in a longform repeat of their 2013 amateur five-rounder. A significant proportion would now favour him in a contest over yesterday’s darling Anthony Joshua.

Joyce stopped Parker in the 11th to become the interim WBO heavyweight world champion

On Saturday night, however, expect to see Joyce grind Zhang down before stopping him. The intrigue is in the question: what if Zhang lands? If he does, Joe will swallow it and carry on moving forward. Which, given the state of most of the undercard is something we’d be well advised to do also.

Fighter’s Form (last 5 fights):

Joe Joyce

Joseph Parker - WIN by KO - round 11

Christian Hammer - WIN by TKO - round 4

Carlos Takam - WIN by TKO - round 6

Daniel Dubois - WIN by KO - round 10

Michael Wallisch - WIN by TKO - round 3

Zhilei Zhang

Filip Hrgovic - LOST by UD (115-112, 115-112, 114-113)

Scott Alexander - WIN by KO - round 1

Craig Lewis - WIN by TKO - round 2

Jerry Forest - DRAW by MD (93-93, 93-95, 93-93)

Devin Vargas - WIN by KO - round 4

Event Information:

Date: April 15th, 2023

Time: 10pm (GMT)

Venue: Copper Box Arena, London, United Kingdom

Channel: BT Sport/ESPN+

Elsewhere on the card

Denzel Bentley and Kieran Smith content the British middleweight title; Sam Noakes and Karthik Kumar fight for the Commonwealth and WBC International Silver titles; and Mikaela Mayer fights Christina Linardatou. The rest is recommendably missable.

*history will show that Hrgovic outpointed Zhang and won by unanimous decision. He didn’t. He lost the fight and was gifted the decision. @me if you want.


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