WBO interim champion Zhilei “Big Bang” Zhang became an unlikely, unexpected shooting star of the heavyweight division at 40 years old Saturday in London at Wembley Arena.
Proving his TKO victory in April wasn’t a one-time performance, Zhang of China (26-1-1, 21 KOs) stopped Joe “Juggernaut” Joyce in half the time it took him in their first fight, scoring a third-round TKO win. Zhang retains the WBO interim heavyweight belt and remains the mandatory challenger for unified champion Oleksandr Usyk.
“I’m happy,” said Zhang in English, who now lives and trains in New Jersey, then switching to Mandarin. “I feel very happy. Like I said before the fight, it’s gonna end sooner than the first fight. I did it.
“Joe, hell of a fighter. Respect to him. I like him. I wanted everyone to witness Chinese power again.”
NOT A FLUKE.
Big Bang Zhang ends the rivalry with a highlight reel KO 🤯🇨🇳 pic.twitter.com/kArwVgWzoR
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) September 23, 2023
Bigger Isn't Better For Juggernaut Joe Joyce
Zhang, weighing nine pounds heavier than in his first fight with Joyce at 287 pounds, had little need to change his approach and deployed the same relentless left jab that wrecked Joyce’s right eye in April.
Joyce, who inexplicably weighed 25 pounds heavier for the fight than he did five months ago, was slow to react. He didn’t appear to have learned much from the previous loss. He could not stay out of Zhang’s reach and offered little resistance other than some sturdiness in the early going.
The outcome seemed written in stone from the start. Zhang was even more confident in his approach and wasted little time or effort. Near the conclusion of the third round, Zhang used the threat of the left jab to set up a thunderous right hook. Joyce fell forward, and though he struggled to his feet, the rematch was over.
The third-round bell sounded during the count, but because it cannot save a fighter, the official stoppage time was 3:07 of round three. Zhang was good to his word.
“This is what we’re here for, man,” said Zhang. “We’re professional fighters. We come here to entertain the crowd. We did it. Thank you for everybody who tuned in today, who came here today, and who witnessed my greatness on Chinese social media.”
It’s not a small number. According to China Global Television Network, sixty million people in China and 340 million people worldwide saw the first bout. Even if those numbers dipped slightly for the rematch, Zhang is making himself the hottest name in the heavyweight division.
Zhang landed 29 of 52 power punches in the three rounds, an impressive 56% connect percentage.
Joyce: ‘Plenty More In The Tank'
Joyce landed just six of 52 power punches, a dismal 12% connect rate. Joyce left Wembley Arena on his feet, smiling and thanking fans who reached out. At age 39, Joyce has now suffered two career-shattering losses.
Later, Joyce said of Zhang, “It was probably a bit too far of a risk, because I needed to fight a southpaw, because I hadn't fought a southpaw for a long time. Yeah, just disappointed because I got myself into the position I was, and then it obviously was a risk too far and I paid the price.
“This is not it for me,” emphasized Joyce. “So there's plenty more, got plenty more in the tank. I'm just going to have to have a bit of time off, reflect and watch the fight back, and then come back new and improved.”
Who's Up For Big Money Against Big Bang Zhang?
Zhang turned to the crowd before he left the ring, and said to them via his translator, “I want to ask the audience, do you want to see me shut Tyson Fury up?” There were cheers and some rumbling. It’s not likely unless Zhang gets the opportunity to win the belts Usyk holds.
But with Fury, money talks and the potential of a big money fight in Beijing or even offshore in Macau may be too tantalizing to turn down.
In the meantime, who wouldn’t love to see Zhang again soon against a rugged, hard-punching heavyweight? The idea of Zhang matching up with his American doppelganger Deontay Wilder is electric. If not, consider the winner of the Otto Wallin vs. Murat Gassiev fight. Andy Ruiz Jr. has been looking for a fight. Philip Hrgovic is a legitimate choice, although it’s not likely he’ll last any longer than Joyce.
Anthony Yarde Takes Two For TKO
Light heavyweight Anthony Yarde of London (24-3, 23 KOs) warmed up the fans in London for the main event, taking out late replacement Jorge Silva of Portugal (22-9, 12 KOs) in just two rounds. Yarde landed a right hand to the temple, and it rattled Silva and rendered him too wobbly to continue. The outcome wasn’t a surprise, but the speed might be. It was Yarde’s return to the ring after his loss in January to powerhouse Artur Beterbiev.
Undercard Winners Include Fletcher, Parker, Itauma
Winners on the undercard: promising young cruiserweight Tommy “Norfolk Nightmare” Fletcher is now 6-0, 5 KOs with another stoppage win Saturday; super middleweight Zach Parker (22-1, 16 KOs) got a layup assignment and his first win since losing to John Ryder 10 months ago; and 18-year-old British heavyweight Moses Itauma (5-0, 3 KOs) continues developing his craft with a first-round knockout win.