Joyce was a big favourite with the bookies but it was clear from round one that Zhang would be his toughest opponent so far. It took less than two minutes for the Chinese heavyweight to land a big straight left and force ‘The Juggernaut’ to backpedal.
Then, in round two, Joe Joyce was caught by another phenomenal straight left hand and the man with a supposed granite chin appeared hurt. ‘Big Bang’ Zhang could not seem to miss until Joyce started firing back with power punches of his own at the latter stages of the round.
However, Zhang continued to have success with his left hand in the third and fourth round and the right eye of Joe Joyce began to swell up. The Brit was able to connect with the odd right hand but the more eye-catching work was coming from his 18 stone opponent.
Joyce increased his work rate in the fifth round, coming forward and throwing a greater number of punches. But this was not without consistently taking flush punches to the face.
At the start of the sixth round, the referee in charge, Howard Foster, got the ringside doctor to have a look at Joyce’s eye. ‘The Juggernaut’ was deemed able to continue for another minute or so before the doctor made another inspection and prompted Foster to stop the contest.
Joe Joyce, with a right eye that was fully shut, did not dispute the decision and will live to fight another day. Unfortunately though, by losing to Zhang, Joyce lost the Interim WBO Heavyweight Championship and his potential mandatory position to fight Oleksandr Usyk.
Meanwhile, Zhang is now in line for a shot at a world title and gained a sense of redemption after controversially suffering a unanimous decision loss to Filip Hrgovic back in August 2022.
Joe Joyce on his loss to zhilei Zhang
In the aftermath, Joe Joyce expressed disappointment with his performance and has to make a decision as to whether he wants to rematch Zhilei Zhang.
“Just getting hit by that left hand over and over. It’s like I couldn’t get away from it,” Joyce told talkSPORT in a post-fight interview.
“He was quick, strong, powerful and experienced. So credit to him and his team getting the win. When you take risks sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I’m just disappointed but I’ll be back. It’s not the end of my journey and if I decide to rematch him next or whenever.
“I’ll be reviewing my loss and seeing if I can make the improvements and stuff. Just bitterly disappointed, I thought I would get the win tonight and sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
‘Big Bang’ was only the second southpaw that Joyce has fought in his professional career. The other southpaw was Lenroy Thomas who Joyce knocked out in two rounds in his fourth pro bout back in 2018.
“He just kept on getting my eye. I’m completely fine but now it’s closed up so I can’t see out of it now. It’s so disappointing when you get a loss but…I’ll have to just go back to the drawing board.
“I haven’t fought a southpaw for a long time so I just need to look over the tape. I could have carried on, I was taking his shots fine but it’s just unfortunate the eye closed up.”
Ironically, when Joyce battled Daniel Dubois in 2020, it was his opponent who withdrew from the fight due to suffering a right eye injury. It remains to be seen how long it will take for ‘The Juggernaut’ to fully recover. Set to turn 38 this year, Joyce must make his return to the ring soon to have any chance of capturing a world title before he retires.