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Joe Joyce v Zhilei Zhang: Briton targets world titles and then face Anthony Joshua ‘for bants’

Venue: Copper Box Arena, London Date: Saturday, 15 April
Coverage: Live text coverage on the BBC Sport website & app from 21:00 BST

Joe Joyce wants to fight heavyweight world champions Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury, and will then face fellow Briton Anthony Joshua “for banter”.

Joyce faces China’s Zhilei Zhang at London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday.

The 37-year-old WBO interim title holder is the mandatory challenger for unified champion Usyk’s WBO belt, while Fury holds the WBC strap.

“I want to make a name for myself and I want to be world champion. I just need to be number one,” said Joyce.

“Fury said he wants to fight me, so I can fight him after the Usyk fight. Then for bants I can fight [two-time former world champion] Joshua or [ex-world title holder Deontay] Wilder.”

‘Joshua is going backwards’

Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce pose for the camera before the Rio 2016 Olympics
Joyce (left) and Joshua (right) are former Team GB amateur team-mates

Joyce has been the mandatory challenger for Usyk’s WBO title since July 2021. The Ukrainian also holds the WBA and IBF titles.

“The natural fight would be to fight Usyk,” said Joyce, who first has to beat Zhang.

But he may have to wait even longer for a world-title shot. As part of a rotation system used by the sanctioning bodies, fellow Briton Daniel Dubois, the WBA mandatory, is next in line for Usyk, with Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic, ranked number one with the IBF, second.

Londoner Joyce may pursue an all-British fight against Fury, with both men signed to Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions.

“[Usyk] doesn’t want to fight me because he says I’m a tank,” he added. “I’d like to fight Fury. Fury’s mentioned my name, said I’m the number two heavyweight – let’s make that fight.”

London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Nicola Adams feels Joyce could even get the better of both champions.

“I don’t think there’s a heavyweight out there that can match his work-rate and the power that comes with it,” she said.

“He’s always had that ability, even as an amateur, to just grind his opponents down.”

If a title contest against Usyk or Fury does not materialise, Joyce is willing to put his mandatory status on the line against Joshua.

The pair have sparred countless rounds over the years and Joshua has previously said he would welcome the match-up, but Joyce “wasn’t impressed” with his compatriot’s points win over Jermaine Franklin earlier this month.

“He can talk all he wants but he seems to be going backwards,” added Joyce. “After the fight he wasn’t saying my name.”

Fans warming to Joyce’s unique personality

Joyce turned professional after winning super-heavyweight silver at the 2016 Olympics. He has won all 15 bouts, with 14 by stoppage.

Outside the ring, his profile has grown over the past year – and there is a sense fans are now starting to warm to his quite unique personality.

Joyce travels around London on a two-wheeler Segway, has a degree in fine arts and is a keen gamer. In November 2020, Joyce paused a video game before his fight with Dubois. After stopping his 25-year-old rival in the 10th round, Joyce returned home to continue his game.

In his BBC Sport column, heavyweight Frazer Clarke described Joyce as “not being the greatest trash talker”.

Where Fury is the master of mind games and Joshua can be philosophical and measured in his replies, Joyce often appears uncomfortable in interviews and news conferences.

But his drawn-out answers, random responses, bizarre quips and comedic timing has endeared him to fans.

In the build-up to his bout with Joseph Parker, Joyce unexpectedly quoted lines from the TV comedy show Inbetweeners.

At Thursday’s news conference, Zhang said he is not in London for sightseeing but to take Joyce’s interim title. “Isn’t that stealing?” asked a straight-faced Joyce, bringing awkward laughter from the media.

More than just a granite chin

Heavyweights Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker in the ring during their September bout
Joyce (left) stopped New Zealand’s Joseph Parker in the 11th round in September

Joyce insists he is not taking ‘Big Bang’ Zhang lightly. The 39-year-old – a 2008 Olympic silver medallist – has a strong amateur pedigree and, as a professional, boasts 24 wins with 19 knockouts.

Zhang’s only career loss came on points to Hrgovic in August – a fight many observers felt he won.

“I don’t want to go 12 rounds with Zhang,” Joyce said. “He narrowly missed out on the victory against Hrgovic. It could have gone either way, he really pushed hard to the end there.

“He landed good shots and had him in trouble so I thought why not give him a chance?

“Considering he’s a southpaw as well, at a good level, it leads me nicely on to fighting a Usyk or a Fury.”

Joyce – with a reported bone density five times that of the average human – is widely considered to have the best chin in the division.

In his last outing, against Parker in September, he shrugged off big hits from the New Zealander before an 11th-round stoppage win.

Joyce says there is more depth to his boxing than an ability to take punches.

“I think people are coming round to the ‘Juggernaut’ and my potential – and how I’m an exciting fighter,” he added.

“But sometimes they just pick on one thing. ‘He’s got a chin’. It was ‘he’s slow’ but that seems to have fizzled out now.”

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