Zhilei Zhang interview: ‘Fighting Joe Joyce was enjoyable - the rematch will end even sooner’

Repeat or revenge: Zhilei Zhang fights Joe Joyce for a second time this weekend  (Getty Images)
Repeat or revenge: Zhilei Zhang fights Joe Joyce for a second time this weekend (Getty Images)

There is something particularly jarring about listening to Zhilei Zhang reflect on beating Joe Joyce.

Daniel Dubois went home with an orbital fracture when losing to his British rival three years ago. Joseph Parker, who lost his world title to Anthony Joshua, labelled Joyce his “toughest challenge” after defeat last September. And then there is Zhang.

“It’s quite enjoyable to be in the ring with him,” he tells Standard Sport, via Free Bets.

“He’s not moving his head, he’s not changing his position and angles. That makes my job easier.”

‘The Juggernaut’ had been an apt nickname for Joyce, a man bowling towards a world title shot with a series of relentless, if somewhat cumbersome, performances. That was until April 15 earlier this year at the Copper Box, when Zhang took his unbeaten record and with it the WBO interim title.

Joyce was badly hurt in six punishing rounds before the referee waved it off, his right eye swollen shut by that point. Just as alarming to him would have been the ease with which Zhang appeared to take his shots.

“He is definitely heavy-handed, but not as heavy as I would have imagined,” Zhang says.

As it stands, Zhang will be in line for a mandatory shot at Oleksandr Usyk when the rotation system next requires the Ukrainian to fulfil his WBO requirements.

To remain at the front of the queue though, the 40-year-old must beat Joyce for a second time, with the pair meeting on Saturday night at Wembley Arena after the British heavyweight activated his rematch clause.

Zhang had been in talks over a summer bout with Tyson Fury before he was informed Joyce wanted to immediately pursue revenge.

“I was a little surprised when I first heard about the rematch,” Zhang admits.

“It’s in the contract, I knew he would activate it one way or another. But I didn’t expect it to be so fast. I would have expected him to fight one or two interim bouts in between, get used to a style and then take the rematch.”

Joyce’s greatest strength as a professional has been his durability, but that propensity to use a hitherto granite chin as the main line of defence proved problematic in April. Is Zhang expecting a more cautious approach from his opponent this time?

“It’s not rocket science that you can’t change to a different style in a few months,” Zhang says. “That’s why the second fight will end even quicker.”

Only George Foreman has won a heavyweight world title beyond the age of 40, but Zhang is confident he can double the membership of that particular club as he eyes the belts held by Fury and Usyk.

“I don’t do anything other than eat, sleep and train,” he says.

“At this age, I still feel I can compete for the heavyweight title. I am 100% confident that I will beat all these guys.”