In this Big Fight Weekend exclusive, heavyweight contender Zhilei Zhang talks facing WBO interim heavyweight champion Joe Joyce this Saturday, live on ESPN+.
On April 15, heavyweight boxing returns to the U.K. as two of the division’s biggest punchers will face off for the interim WBO heavyweight title live on ESPN+. Zhilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang (24-1-1) will be facing interim WBO champion Joe “The Juggernaut” Joyce (15-0). This will be “bombs away” from the very start, so expect some hard shots being exchanged by these two huge fighters.
While both fighters have an interesting upbringing, Zhang draws more attention here in the States as he resides in Bloomfield, NJ. The 39-year-old heavyweight has been on plenty of undercards as he is a known ticket seller within the tri-state area, but last August, he was given an opportunity to be one step away from a world title shot, and he came up short against Filip Hrgovic (15-0). The fight was initially supposed to take place on the Canelo Alvarez vs. Caleb Plant undercard, but Hrgovic had a death in his family, so they pushed the fight to August in Saudi Arabia as an undercard to Usyk vs. Joshua II.
Zhang suffered the first loss in his career, which can be difficult to get over for fighters, while some of them are never the same. How did Zhang handle it? ‘Big Bang’ told Big Fight Weekend, “It was over for me once the judges announced the winner. I was cool about it at the time, but I have moved forward and have a bigger picture to look at. I don’t stay in the past as it’s my mission to look forward.”
Although moving forward after a loss would mean a soft touch for some, Zhang decided to go straight into a fight with Joyce, who served a beat down to Joseph Parker back in September. That is no soft touch, so when the press release in February announced the fight, it was a surprise to fans hoping that Zhang would get another shot at Hrgovic. Honestly, this is a better matchup that could position Zhang for a shot at the current unified champion Oleksandr Usyk as early as this year. Zhang has stayed consistent and persistent toward his goal of wearing the heavyweight crown one day. “My goal has never changed as I still want to be a world champion. To do that, you have to overcome a lot of tough opponents, so when the opportunity knocks on the door, and the Joe Joyce name came up, I answered.”
Now that Zhang has the Joyce fight, he held his camp at home in New Jersey. Zhang said that he “didn’t do anything special for Joyce” but was more so perfecting his craft as he wants to show everyone what a “true warrior looks like.” While Zhang is serious about his fight preparations, he also likes to have fun. If you go to his Instagram account, you will find him trolling Joyce and another video having a body punch contest with someone he knows.
Is this a side of Zhang that most don’t know about? “Training is one thing, and living is another. I’m very serious about my training, but when it comes to everyday life, you must have fun and relax. You can’t be all tensed up all the time. You have to let yourself loosen up a little, which is where the body shot videos came from.”
The heavyweight contender now has to travel to the U.K. and face one of the hardest punchers in the game who can take a shot as well (ask Joseph Parker and Daniel Dubois). Zhang doesn’t feel any different when it comes to fighting at home or being a guest in someone else’s country. Zhang told Big Fight Weekend, “I use my fists to create the conversation. I don’t think being a guest at his (Joyce’s) home country will change the scenario much.”
👋 Hey Joe!
— Queensberry Promotions (@Queensberry) April 6, 2023
‘Big Bang’ Zhang has a message for those tuning in on April 15 live on ESPN+.” I would like to thank all of the fans for your support. Let’s all look forward to April 15, as it will be a great night for boxing, and I appreciate all of you guys.”