The Juggernaut's journey has stalled momentarily, so what could come next for Joe Joyce?
Last Saturday night at the Wembley Arena, Joe Joyce (15-2, 14KOs) suffered a second successive defeat to the heavy-handed Chinese southpaw Zhilei Zhang (26-1-1 21KOs) in devastating fashion within just three rounds.
Their first fight back in April this year was a fairly one-sided beating until its eventual, inevitable ending in round six due to a significant eye injury, however the conclusion to the second bout unfortunately finished in an even more brutal manner.
Going into Saturday’s rematch, fans and pundits alike were split as to whether Joe Joyce would be able to make the necessary adjustments to drastically reverse the narrative of the first fight, or if ‘Big Bang’ Zhang’s southpaw style, comparable size, ferocious power and sniper-like left hand accuracy would be too much to overcome.
As the fight began, ‘The Juggernaught’ did employ some obvious tactical adjustments, circling away from Zhang’s left-hand danger shot and also looking to keep on the outside and bide his time, with the intention of dragging the former Chinese Olympian into deep waters as he has done so effectively in the past with the likes of Daniel Dubois and Joseph Parker.
Unfortunately for the hometown favourite however, this plan did not come to fruition. Despite Joyce moving to the left, Zhang still managed to find a consistent home for sharp left hands, visibly stopping Joyce in his tracks on a number of occasions. As with their first meeting, Zhang still had a clear advantage in both speed and accuracy, with the London slugger’s cumbersome head movement and reflexes once again being highlighted.
In round three, the fight and one-sided rivalry would reach its violent conclusion as Joyce, circling to the left before looking to let fly with his own right hand, walked straight into a straight left hand to the body, lethal right hook up top combination, with the final shot landing flush on his previously considered iron chin. The way in which the Londoner collapsed to the canvas, you thought he was out cold, first falling forwards onto his knee and then face down on the matt. His extreme heart and toughness however were demonstrated once again, as he somehow managed to get back to his feet, but not quite in time to beat the 10-count as referee Steve Gray correctly waved off proceedings.
For ‘Big Bang’ Zhang, he has now cemented himself as one of the biggest immediate threats to the division’s dominant couplet of Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk. He will likely be avoided on the back of his latest two showings, but he is in a fantastic position to call out any of the division’s elite. For Joe Joyce however, his relevance on the heavyweight world title landscape has completely evaporated.
Prior to his first meeting with Zhang, it was Joyce himself who was perhaps considered the biggest threat to the Heavyweight divisions leading lineup. His size, chin, endurance, power and relentless output seemingly making him a nightmare for anyone. Two fights and two defeats later however, and the likes of Tony Bellew have stated they believe even British champion Fabio Wardley would knockout this now perceived shot version of the former Olympic silver medallist. Boxing is a fickle sport and you are only ever deemed as good as your last performance, however statements such as this are perhaps a little premature.
After the bout Joyce confirmed he has no intention to retire and feels he has a lot more to give, so let’s take a look into what big fights might still be out there for Joyce, even in spite of this crushing defeat.
Daniel Dubois rematch
This is the fight that likely makes the most sense for both men with them both coming off stoppage defeats, whilst their first fight was an entertaining back and forth battle which ended in a slightly dissatisfactory manner with Dubois taking a knee due to a fractured orbital socket. They are also both promoted by Queensbury, so it should be an easy fight to make. Both coming back against a lower-level opponent before meeting sometime next year in a huge all British rematch is a very feasible scenario and would certainly still draw a lot of intrigue.
Yes, he’s still fighting and still calling for big fights. This is another one however that does have a bit of a back story. Joe Joyce and his team have been calling for the Chisora fight for years, dating all the way back to 2018, as Joyce’s manager at the time David Haye sought to rapidly step him up through the ranks on account of his ability and age. Looking back now we can see why, as it does look like at the age of 38 that the punch resistance he was formerly famed for has faded dramatically.
Back then Chisora always disregarded the Joyce fight as a step back, however given the stage they are both at currently, this would actually be an excellent fight to make. Stylistically I can’t see how it would be anything less than a wildly entertaining slugfest, with two heavy hitting and defensively careless brawlers meeting in the middle of the ring. The winner would be able to go on into another significant fight. For the loser it would surely spell the end.
Another fighter to add to the growing list of British world level heavyweights who appear to be drifting into the abyss. He of course has a battle to win outside of the ring, to overturn the results of his adverse finding in the lead up to the Anthony Joshua rematch, but if this does happen a fight between himself and Joe Joyce would be another big domestic heavyweight dust up.
Whyte is also contractually a free agent, so again there shouldn’t be any barriers to overcome from a promotional or broadcaster perspective.
No retirement yet
These would be the main three that I think Joe Joyce should be looking to next as still sizeable, but also realistic and winnable fights. I remember the days where we would still be excited for British Heavyweight title battles between the likes of Matt Skelton, Danny Williams, Audley Harrison and Michael Sprott, so calls for the current selection of world level domestic fighters to retire are certainly hasty, even if they may be some way off the top five of the division based on recent form.
Whilst world title ambitions may well be over, if Joe Joyce still has a significant appetite to fight on, there are definitely still options out there. It may not be where he envisioned his career going 12 months ago, but perhaps following a comeback win and a degree of confidence restored, don’t be surprised to see the ‘The Juggernaught’ back entertaining us in a domestic blockbuster in the not-too-distant future.
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