In this Big Fight Weekend exclusive, interim WBO heavyweight champion Zhilei Zhang gives some insight on his win over Joe Joyce in London, UK.
Last night was a perfect example of why boxing is such an intriguing sport, especially in the heavyweight division. Although the betting odds may be stacked up against someone, there is always the possibility that the underdog prevails. Going into the fight, Zhilei Zhang (25-1-1) was the underdog at +550 according to BetMGM and, even worse, was at +1000 to score a knockout or TKO. While Joe Joyce (15-1) was the heavy favorite, Zhang was cooler than a fan leading up to the fight, with his confidence being sky-high. When speaking to Zhang weeks before the fight, he told Big Fight Weekend, “I use my fists to create the conversation.”
When the fight started in the first round, that was crystal clear. Zhang started with his right jab from the southpaw stance and used some good movement for someone his size. Then something happened: Zhang landed a hard straight left hand, and Joyce reacted unexpectedly. ‘The Juggernaut’ looked like the power behind Zhang’s punch surprised him. During the seconds that this occurred, Zhang quickly jumped on Joyce, which was a surprise move as most guys would be steering away from the danger of getting hit with a punch from Joyce. But no, Zhang went towards the fire and started to see a ton of success. After the first round, Joyce looked confused, almost like when you found out who the wizard really was in The Wizard of Oz.
Zhang followed it in the second round by landing that huge left hand again, but this time, Joyce was really hurt and almost fell to the canvas. For some reason, referee Howard Foster stopped the action and gave Joyce a breather. Foster has a history of questionable calls so when this started to happen, the first thought in my mind was, ‘Uh oh.’ Zhang didn’t let any of that affect what he was doing, and that right jab couldn’t miss, neither could the straight left down the middle or the left hook. Now Joyce’s nose was busted up, and his eye swelled quickly. The broadcast team at ESPN commented that it could have been damage to the orbital bone, a common occurrence in boxing during. Regardless, it gave Zhang a target, and Joyce was now stepping back instead of moving forward as he would normally do in his fights.
By the third round, his eye was swelling rapidly, and that’s when I tweeted the below.
All Zhang has to do is land more left hooks as Joyce's eye will be closed by round 6. #JoyceZhang
— Abraham Gonzalez (@abeG718) April 15, 2023
Zhang knew it too, and although there were spots when Joyce would land his right hand and hooks to the body, Zhang was being smart and not taking any chances. Joyce moved to Zhang’s right to avoid the left hand, which would only be in spots. When Joyce would tire out, Zhang would land some ‘Big Bang’ shots on Joyce. I didn’t like that since this fight was in Joyce’s hometown, the ringside doctor wasn’t checking that eye as much as he should have. Another questionable moment was right before the referee stopped the fight, the doctor examined Joyce and then covered his mouth while talking to the referee as he was aware the camera was focused on him. Although the referee may have wanted to give Joyce another chance, he knew that Joyce was in bad shape, and the right thing to do was to stop it.
AND THAT'S IT 🤯
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) April 15, 2023
Hours after his win and once he got a good night’s sleep, I checked in with Zhang and his team as they were eating breakfast after a huge performance. With Joyce’s power being something all of the sharps were bringing up as the “X factor,” how did Zhang feel about Joyce’s power? Zhang told Big Fight Weekend, “I did not feel much of his power at the start of the fight.” That’s interesting, as the other heavyweights did, but Zhang is much bigger than some of Joyce’s previous opponents. The one knock on Joyce is his speed, as the punches seem to be coming in slow motion. Fighters hadn’t been able to capitalize on it, but Zhang did. Was Joyce slower than expected or slower? “I was surprised at how slow he was. It was slower than expected. It (Joyce’s speed) allowed me to land counter shots at will.”
The future looks bright for Team Zhang, and the always popular question came up, ‘What’s next?’ Zhang told Big Fight Weekend, “I’ll have to talk to my promoter and team to see what’s available. The heavyweight division is all up in the air right now, and it’s kind of a mess, but I’m down to fight anybody.”
My Three Cents
Zhilei Zhang has always been a class act when it comes to making himself available to the media. Why wouldn’t he be as he is represented by two even classier men in Terry and Tommy Lane, who are the sons of the late, great Hall of Fame referee Mills Lane. Zhang will get a big fight next, and with this interim strap around his waist, an event in China isn’t that farfetched. Whatever he does and wherever he fights, one thing is for sure, the fans will be tuning in to see ‘Big Bang’ Zhang.