Zhilei Zhang showcased his elite status in the heavyweight division, while Joe Joyce's future prospects now appear uncertain.
In their rematch at the OVO Arena Wembley in London, Zhang delivered a devastating knockout to Joyce with a single right hook, sealing his victory in the final seconds of the third round.
The Chinese fighter had previously defeated his British counterpart in April, securing a technical knockout. In their initial encounter, Joyce had struggled to evade Zhang's potent left hand, resulting in his right eye swelling shut and prompting the referee to stop the bout in the sixth round.
In the rematch, Joyce displayed better preparation to contend with Zhang's signature punch. He kept his right hand up and moved to his left, away from Zhang's power. However, Joyce's cautious approach proved to be a disadvantage as he failed to mount any meaningful offense, allowing the confident Zhang to dictate the pace.
Zhang connected with several impactful left punches in the early stages of the second round and unleashed a barrage of accurate and powerful shots late in the round, providing a preview of what was to come.
In the closing moments of the third round, just before the bell, Zhang targeted Joyce's body with a left hook. Joyce attempted to respond with a right hand, but he walked into a perfectly timed right hook from Zhang. The blow sent Joyce sprawling to the canvas.
NOT A FLUKE.— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) September 23, 2023
Big Bang Zhang ends the rivalry with a highlight reel KO 🤯🇨🇳 pic.twitter.com/kArwVgWzoR
Joyce went from being flat on his stomach to all fours, then to one knee, and finally regained his feet. However, referee Steve Gray, observing Joyce's condition closely, decided to halt the fight immediately.
With this victory, Zhang (26-1, 21 KOs) secured back-to-back knockouts over a formidable contender, solidifying his position as a top fighter in the heavyweight division.
“I feel very happy,” he said immediately afterward through a translator. “Like I said before the fight, it’s gonna end sooner than the first fight. I did it!”
Zhang was defending the WBO’s “interim” title, which is meaningless other than the fact he’s first in line to challenge titleholder Oleksandr Usyk.
However, when he was asked who he would like to fight next, he didn’t mention the unified champion from Ukraine.
“I want to ask the audience,” he said, referring to the crowd at OVO Arena. “I want to ask a question: Do you want to see me shut up [WBC beltholder] Tyson Fury?”
Zhang must now patiently await what the future holds, but one thing is certain: the 40-year-old has emerged as a prominent figure in the sport's prestigious heavyweight division.
As for Joyce, the path to recovery from this devastating loss remains uncertain. Following their initial encounter, he had an opportunity to rectify his performance, but instead, he endured a more brutal fate—a one-punch knockout. This setback is likely to lead to his removal from the rankings and further tarnish his reputation.
Despite his silver medal in the 2016 Olympics, it now seems increasingly unlikely that Joyce will ever contend for a major championship, let alone secure one.