China’s Zhilei “Big Bang” Zhang has set his sights on Ukraine’s heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk after dealing Britain’s Joe Joyce his first professional defeat.
Referee Howard Foster stopped the fight in the sixth of 12 scheduled rounds at London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday night after the ringside doctor had twice inspected Joyce’s puffed up right eye, which was almost closed.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“Today belongs to me,” Zhang said through a translator after punching the air and shouting, “Chinese power”. “… I’m 39 years old, but I’m disciplined. I train hard. Next step, I’m going for the title.”
Two of the three judges had Zhang ahead at that point. The victory for Zhang marked a comeback from his first career defeat by Croatian Filip Hrgovic in August.
Joyce, 37, was the WBO interim champion in the division, a title that effectively made him the WBO’s mandatory challenger for WBO, IBO, IBF and WBA champion Usyk. Britain’s Tyson Fury holds the WBC title.
Joyce had been eyeing potential fights with Usyk, Fury or Anthony Joshua in the build-up to his fight with Zhang.
But the Chinese fighter had his shorter and lighter opponent in trouble from early on as Joyce provided a static target for Zhang’s booming left hand and plenty of work for his corner as cuts opened up.
“I’m just disappointed with my performance,” Joyce told BT Sport after what was his 16th pro fight. “The right hand he kept hitting me with. I couldn’t get out of the way, so respect to Zhilei Zhang, ‘Big Bang’. I haven’t fought a southpaw for so long. … I expected to win like I normally do.
“I’ll be back. My journey’s not over. This is just a hurdle I may have tripped over, so I’ll be back.”
Promoter George Warren said Joyce may seek a rematch with Zhang.