Joe Joyce suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of China’s Zhilei Zhang on Saturday night, surrendering the WBO interim title after a sixth round stoppage.
Referee Howard Foster called an end to the bout after doctors double-evaluated Joyce’s severely swollen eye, leaving Zhang to celebrate an unexpected win.
Here, the PA news agency examines what defeat means for Joyce following his first professional loss.
World title hopes fade
Joyce made no secret of the fact that he was already looking beyond Zhang and towards the prospect of glittering encounters against the biggest names in the game. She was looking to redress her mandatory contender status against WBO, WBA and IBF champion Oleksandr Usyk and has also talked about an all-English fight against Tyson Fury for the WBC crown. Now, he’ll find that his name is slipping off the radar for both men and he needs to piece together his credentials before he can justify a shot in the upper straps.
The most obvious route back into the conversation for the 37-year-old is to go back to Zhang and try to make things right. However, it is more difficult to see the call for the winner. At age 39, the “Big Bang” may never have a good chance of shooting Usyk or Fury. If Joyce was one win away from setting up a high-profile head-to-head, why not Zhang? It may take some clever negotiation to stage a back battle, and if that is to be successful, Joyce’s preparations will need to be even better than before. However, even overturning the loss would hardly restore all of the heat in her, with her unbeaten status gone for good.
If Zhang chooses to look elsewhere in the short term, Joyce’s smartest play may be to rebuild his morale with a guaranteed win. He was likely ambitious in agreeing to face a strong competitor like Zhang at this stage and may have managed to get away unscathed with a low-profile opponent. If he goes that route, he should look for a manageable southpaw, having seemed completely unprepared for the challenge of a southpaw. Essentially, he admitted it soon after the loss to him and successfully coping with the change before attempting to overthrow Zhang could be beneficial.
Payday with AJ
Joyce and Joshua both came through the ranks as Olympians with Team GB, played each other as amateurs and were once regular sparring partners. The idea that they will cross paths once again in the pro arena seems irresistible. Joyce indicated the pairing was on his agenda if he got his hands on a world title, but that timeline could now be moved forward. For Joshua, seeing Joyce’s vulnerabilities on display could draw him to the table, and the contest offers a tantalizing scalp for both men. When it comes to building a credible case for the world title and generating outside interest, this option has legs.