Joe Joyce looks to have a different outcome for the second fight against Zhang

Joe will look to get revenge on Saturday as he faces Zhilei Zhang for the second time in five months.
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One of the most interesting journeys to hear about is that of men and women who decide to become professional fighters. The adversity they face as young children often guides them to boxing, and when they turn pro, the hardship they thought they’d escaped reappears in a different form. Former interim WBO heavyweight champion Joe Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) is all too familiar with the adversity, as he lost to Zhilei Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) in April. Since then, he exercised his rematch clause, leading to the two men facing each other again on Saturday night.

If you ask Joyce, that loss is nothing compared to growing up with a mother who is blind. He had to grow up fast, and it was a lot to ask from a young boy. Because his mother is completely blind in one eye and has 7% vision in the other, Joyce had to help her with everything from reading menus to bus signs. He didn’t mind it and sometimes acted his age and tried to sneak up on his mother playfully, but she would always know where he was. Joyce often asked himself, “How did she do that?” and laughed about it when reminiscing.

Joyce would grow up and get into sports and art. He was good at both, and his parents pushed those two things equally. When it was time for Joyce to go to college, he had to decide which path to take. “I was at a stage in my life where I didn’t know which direction I would go into in college, so I decided to go into art, which was more fun for me. It paid off, and I was able to create some amazing pieces of art. It’s something I keep on the back burner, but I produce work in my spare time. I like producing something instead of destroying it like boxing,” said the 38-year-old Joyce.

Zhilei Zhang vs. Joe Joyce 2 will stream, September 23 live on ESPN+

Joyce would earn a degree in Fine Art from Middlesex University and eventually become a fighter as well. After his pro debut in 2017 and climbing up the ranks, he would win the interim WBO title against Joseph Parker in September 2022. Things were looking up for Joyce, and there were opportunities on the horizon, but in April, he decided to take the fight with Zhang, which was a mistake. Joyce lost by sixth-round TKO that night and was caught off guard by the Chinese heavyweight. 

“I was surprised by his speed, power, and accuracy,” said Joyce. “He just kept nailing me with his left hand, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. When I started to get into the fight a bit more, I felt like I was landing more shots, but he had more powerful single straight lefts. Obviously, that caused the eye to swell up.” Swelling up was an understatement. His eye looked terrible, but Joyce insisted that nothing was broken, and the swelling went down within two weeks. According to Joyce, what bothered him the most was the swelling in his ear, as it didn’t allow him to sleep on his right side. In the end, Joyce said, “My pride was hurt more than my body.”

Joyce is used to life being hard for him, so just like he did as a kid with his blind mother, he dealt with the loss but did not allow the situation to defeat him. Joyce immediately activated the rematch and will again face Zhang to see if he can regain his title and move on to bigger fights in the heavyweight division.

For the rematch on Saturday night, Joyce wants to come in heavier than the 256 lbs. he weighed back in April. “I think I was a little bit light in the last fight. I found out why, and it was something that I had taken out of my diet. I’m a lot more disciplined in this camp. I want to be more like the 270 (pounds) plus range. I want to be optimal and not carry on too much weight.” It’ll be interesting to see if the weight makes a difference or if it will make him even slower, which will play right into the hands of Zhang. Regardless, Joyce feels that he will have “better tactics” in this fight, as he was “very disappointed” in his last performance. “There is a lot on the line as the underdog, and I have something to prove,” said Joyce.

Like most who follow the sport, Joyce knows anything can happen in a heavyweight fight. That is what makes this division the one that historically draws casual fans. That unpredictability excites people, and Joyce wants to overcome adversity again while regaining the title he lost earlier this year.

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