Joe Joyce vs Zhilei Zhang preview and prediction

All you need to prepare for Joe Joyce vs. Zheili Zhang.

By: Lukasz Fenrych | 2 months ago
Joe Joyce vs Zhilei Zhang preview and prediction
Official poster for Joe Joyce vs. Zheili Zhang.

This weekend, boxing’s main event is expected to be a heavyweight slug fest from the UK. Joe Joyce and Zhilei Zhang are two hard-punching, aggressive, and huge individuals, so it’s unlikely to be a display of defensive-mindedness.

Joe Joyce vs. Zhilei Zhang will be available in the US on ESPN+, starting from 2PM ET. UK viewers will find it on BT Sport, with the card starting at 7PM BST. 


Joe Joyce (15-0-0, 14KOs) still doesn’t have too many pro fights, but at 37 he hasn’t got time to sit around if he wants a crack at a title. Things have been a bit frustrating for him, because having turned pro at 33 (after winning gold at the Rio Olympics) he was pushed quite quickly, but past a certain level he’s struggled to attract opponents.

He’s consistently fought solid opponents, including a breakdown defeat of Joseph Parker last year,  That’s partly because he looks like a really tough opponent, and partly because other top heavyweights have been tied up with each other or boxing’s typical promotional bullshit. But either way, he needs to keep his momentum going, keep winning spectacularly and make himself unavoidable.

Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) has in some ways a similar story, he’s just a bit further along. Also an Olympic medalist- boxing to silver in 2008 – he turned pro after losing out to Anthony Joshua in 2012. The difference is that he wasn’t pushed as hard- despite turning pro in 2014, he didn’t really start taking known opponents till 5 years later. And even now, he’ll still fill in time by taking opponents who shouldn’t be in the ring with someone with title aspirations.

That said, he has also had his challenges, including an entertaining and very close loss to Filip Hrgovic last August. He’ll also want to maneuver himself to a title shot, of course, but his big dream is to fight Anthony Joshua. Either way, a win will give him much-needed leverage and what is probably a last crack at the top.

Joe Joyce vs. Zhilei Zhang press conference.


Joe Joyce is a fighter who gives up power for speed.

Okay, for anyone who’s seen him fight, that’s probably going to be controversial. He is one of the most notoriously slow, yet notoriously powerful, fighters in modern boxing. A rolling, rumbling, implacable machine. The kind of fighter best described as a tank. Or a glacier. How could that guy possibly be leaning into speed?

So let’s ask ourselves a question. Watch a bit of one of his recent fights. Heck, watch this upcoming one. How often do you see Joyce actually set his feet to throw a shot? To really torque into it, push through it from the floor? Almost never. Almost every punch he throws, be it a jab, straight, hook, to the head or the body, is thrown while on his toes. If not outright on the move. 

At first glance it might seem a counter-intuitive thing for him to be doing- surely someone whose main strength is his power should be aiming to maximise that? But the reason for fighting the way he does is actually very simple: Joe Joyce punches really hard, whatever he’s doing. He doesn’t need to sit down on his shots to hurt his opponent. That’s borne out by his results: of his 15 opponents, only one has seen the final bell, and that was the experienced and very defensive Bryant Jennings. If he can reach his opponents consistently, he breaks them down. That’s just what happens. 

And so, reaching them becomes the main focus. Because the second part of his reputation is true too: Joyce is slow. In boxing, setting yourself to throw simply takes a bit of extra time- and the slower you are, the more extra time that is. Some fighters, of course, are skilled at stepping into the right position without needing to pause- but Joyce just isn’t one of them. Getting into position, throwing the punch, then getting himself back out of the position safely so he can throw the next thing- for him, that may well give his opponent the time to escape before he even gets started. Or to counter him. 

So, he mostly sticks to throwing on the move- and he uses that in conjunction with his other big upside. For a heavyweight, Joyce’s gas tank is incredible. That means he can throw punches at a rate the other big men can’t live with. His baseline level is about 60 punches per round. When he got rolling in the latter stages of his win over Parker, he was up to about 100. Those kinds of numbers are a lot for any division. At heavyweight, only Oleksandr Usyk (who’s moved up from cruiserweight, and a notoriously high-volume fighter himself) comes close. 

So avoiding the sheer amount of shots he throws is a tough ask for his opponents. Avoiding them when he’s constantly moving, pressing into their space so to avoid them they have to step back… they start to fall apart. He gives no time to recover, to clear the head or to think. Even worse, the shots he throws, though slow, are weird, often coming from unexpected angles and without consistent patterns of timing to read and respond to. There are few opponents in this division who can deal with that kind of heat.

Zhang, to be fair, isn’t likely to try to, really. He isn’t going to beat Joyce by trying to outbox him, so it’s unlikely that he’s going to. Instead, he’ll meet the challenge head on, and simply try to get Joyce out of there. 

We can look at it this way: Joyce is a big slow old heavyweight boxer who does not fit into the style that description might conjure. Zhang is a big slow old heavyweight… who does. Mostly. Sure, at the start of fights he’s got a bit more footspeed than you might expect, and if his opponent’s coming at him (which Joyce will) he’s quite happy to deliver his power on the back foot.

Still, his plan as a rule is to jab his way until he’s close, then set up to deliver a short combination of power punches. Then, reset and repeat. And you can see the exact problem Joyce is trying to avoid: if an opponent disengages and makes that combination fall short, Zhang has to gear himself up again and restart his momentum before he can re-engage. Constant pressure isn’t really something in his toolkit.   

Early on, he may well give Joyce some issues. If he can intercept the (slightly) smaller man as he comes in, he can use his momentum against him- and he’s got good enough timing and movement that he’ll make him fall short with some of his work, whether he hurts him or not. And, because Joyce in his haste to get forward does sometimes overbalance a little, he can try to use that against him.

 But early on’ is a load-carrying phrase, there. Zhang tends to have slowed considerably by the middle rounds, so if he hasn’t gotten Joyce out of there by then, he’s liable to drown. 

So yes, there’s a definite favourite to this one here: but with two aggressive, hard-punching fighters in the ring, it’s likely to be good action while it lasts. 

What’s on the undercard?

A pretty strong card here, outside the main event of Joe Joyce vs. Zhilei Zhang. Two below-world, but prestigious, titles are on the line, with hard-hitting Denzel Bentley fighting Keiran Smith for a British middleweight belt, and rising star Sam Noakes defending his lightweight Commonwealth belt against Karthik Sathish Kumar. Also in action is the American Mikeala Mayer, looking to recover from losing her belts to Alycia Baumgardner. She faces late replacement Lucy Wildheart, after original opponent Christine Linardatou pulled out. Beyond that, a slate of British prospects rounds it out.

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About the author
Lukasz Fenrych
Lukasz Fenrych

Lukasz Fenrych is an analyst and writer. He has been covering combat sports since 2019, and joined Bloody Elbow's boxing team in 2022.

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