Zhang Better The Second Time Around: Weekend Afterthoughts

Boxing Scene

Sometimes, the other guy is just better.

Joe Joyce had several months to plan, adjust, scheme, to focus on one task: reverse the outcome of his first unsuccessful contest with Zhilei Zhang.

Joyce came in significantly heavier and with a different approach, circling away from the southpaw left that did so much damage the first time around. For three minutes, the contact was low and Joyce could feel like maybe he’d found the beginning of something.

Round one was quickly forgotten. In this sequel clash of Olympic silver medalists, Zhang rapidly found the range again and went to work. He rocked Joyce in round two and in round three landed a right hook that sounded like Joyce was hit with a shovel. In a clash of 6’6 giants weighing closer to 300 pounds than 250, it was ultimately the speed and technique of the heavier and older man that made all the difference.

Joe Joyce learned one of boxing’s hardest lessons. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to plan, adjust, or scheme. The other guy is better than you no matter what you do. Zhang is simply the superior prizefighter.  

At age 40, Zhang Zhilei has ascended to be one of the top threats in the game to lineal king Tyson Fury and unified titlist Oleksandr Usyk.

Futures: The question for Zhang will be whether he can get either man in the ring anytime soon. He called for Fury after the fight and the idea is intriguing. China has proven a lucrative market for many aspects of the entertainment world. The potential for China as a boxing market is largely unexplored outside of some notable cards in Macau and Shanghai. 

Heavyweight is always a great way to expand a market. Fury doesn’t seem all that interested in being a fighting champion right now as he dithers away another year of his career, but the allure of an untapped market could make Zhang an enticing foe. Usyk has a mandatory due against the lone man with a win over Zhang, Filip Hrgovic, and the winner there could easily find a “Big Bang” waiting for them late next year. 

The biggest fight is still Fury-Usyk and if that can happen, all other bets are off for the moment. Could we get other intriguing options while we wait? Zhang against anyone is interesting right now. How would his size and power match up with the speed and power of a Deontay Wilder? If Hrgovic has to wait, could we see a Zhang rematch? Zhang and Joyce have been the best the division had to offer this year and Zhang’s victories will have their reward.

For Joyce, the loss is a huge setback. At 37, with consecutive losses, an absent defense, and diminishing speed, Joyce has a long road to get back toward a title shot and not much time on his side. Regardless, he made quite a bit of a truncated career with some memorable scraps in the last few years. 

Cliff’s Notes…

Zhang-Joyce II wasn’t the only action over the weekend…Sandy Ryan should be the welterweight champion of the world. The draw verdict against champion Jessica McCaskill was dubious and McCaskill was more than fortunate not to lose her second straight. McCaskill-Ryan II is the fight that makes sense for both and Ryan would have to be favored in a return. It’s not too soon to speculate about a big showdown for her with Chantelle Cameron whether Cameron repeats her win over Katie Taylor or not…Junior welterweight Richardson Hitchins is good at what he does but it’s not a lot of fun to watch right now…Ammo Williams is a solid young contender in the current field at middleweight, but it’s not much of a field…Anthony Yarde shouldn’t be expected to fight a beast off his spirited loss to Artur Beterbiev but he should be well beyond fighting professionals who don’t appear competent in their craft.    

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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