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Repeat or revenge? Joyce wants ‘redemption’ against Zhang

Joe Joyce strongly believes adjusting his tactics and putting on some weight will make a difference in Saturday’s rematch against Zhilei Zhang (ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET).

Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs), who turned professional after winning a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, lost his unbeaten record and WBO interim heavyweight belt when he was stopped in the sixth round after his right eye was closed shut by the stinging accuracy of Zhang’s punches.

Joyce’s ring walk for the first fight was a “Terminator” theme, with video screens showing Joyce punching opponents with a red light coming through his right eye, something Joyce said didn’t “work in my favor.”

A second defeat this weekend at the Wembley Arena in London will likely leave Joyce shut out from any heavyweight world title opportunities in the immediate future. Suppose Oleksandr Usyk, the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion, does not face WBC titleholder Tyson Fury in an undisputed title decider next. In that case, he is likely to face Filip Hrgovic, the IBF mandatory challenger, before a potential matchup against either Zhang or Joyce.

After turning 38 on Tuesday and losing his last fight, Joyce desperately needs to win back the WBO interim belt.

“I want that title back that he took from me last time,” Joyce said during a news conference in London on Thursday pointing at the belt. “I want it back.”

To help him in his cause, Joyce and Cuban trainer Ismael Salas, who is based in Las Vegas, have made crucial changes to revive Joyce’s career.

“[The loss] exposed a lot of mistakes that me and the team made in camp, and it’s about correcting those, and going to the next fight not overlooking things and getting these things right.” Joyce said.

In their first fight, Joyce threw 284 more total punches than Zhang but only landed 85 (18% accuracy), according to CompuBox. Zhang was very effective, landing 82 of 180 total punches (46%). Zhang also landed 56 of his power punches, while Joyce only landed 24%.

“I’ve made a lot of minor adjustments in the build up, some of the things with the team, and tactics and weight,” Joyce told ESPN last week. “I’m coming in more practiced and prepared. I was a little bit light — Zhang was heavier and stronger.

“I had to make sure I was eating right and eating enough. When I started the previous camp I was already on fight weight so it was hard for me to keep the weight on.”

Joyce also said on Thursday that getting bigger was just one aspect of the things he wanted to correct ahead of the rematch.

“[The weight] is obviously something I needed to correct and keep an eye on, but it’s amongst a lot more different things, different aspects of the camp that I needed to build upon from the last camp,” Joyce said. “I just made sure that I ticked every box, crossed the t’s, dotted the i’s and yeah, I’m coming for a victory this time… And not get my eye black.”

Joyce’s team alleges that if the fight continued, Joyce had a chance of beating Zhang. While that’s debatable, Zhang thinks that was a possibility and he doesn’t want to take the risk of letting the judges decide the outcome of the rematch.

“Maybe,” he said about the first fight. “Because when you look at the scorecards one of the judges had him up on the scorecards after the fight. So, like I said, I’m not gonna give judges any opportunities. I said in the first fight, I’ll say it again in the second fight — I’d do the same.”

Zhang, (25-1-1, 20 KOs), 40, from China but based in New Jersey, has looked impressive in his last two fights. First against Joyce, then in a close decision bout against Hrgovic in August 2022. The southpaw landed accurately against Joyce, whose eye began showing damage in the first round.

“He was quick with the left direct blows to my eye,” Joyce said. “Maybe I overlooked him a bit and got tactics wrong, there were some minor last minute changes and weren’t practiced. This time they have, and hopefully, it will be a better outcome.

“I was surprised by his speed and accuracy, and I’ve been working on those things for the rematch.

Zhang, who said he had the help of three different sparring partners to prepare for the rematch, added that he will be once again targeting Joyce’s right eye once again.

“Yes, it is nice and simple. I know his weakness is his eyes and I’m gonna go for his eyes,” Zhang said.

After the first match, Joyce said he was disappointed with his performance. He alluded to not having faced a southpaw in a long time before facing Zhang but promised his journey wasn’t over.

“It took me a while to get over it [the defeat],” Joyce said. “I always want to improve, I only started boxing at the age of 22, so I’ve not done too badly. I tried a lot of other sports including athletics to be successful at and I’ve managed to do that with boxing.

“When I get the WBO interim title back I will be very close to achieving my dreams. This is the quickest way for me to get back in line for a title fight, and I’m confident of beating Zhang.”

It could be the quickest way for Joyce, but not the easiest. Zhang dominated their first fight from the start, landing numerous punches that staggered Joyce in the first four rounds. Joyce had a good fifth round, but with the right eye closed, the fight was stopped in the sixth.

“I see Joyce wants to get the title back, but I just want to say I am the tiger, and I’m hungry,” Zhang said. “And you don’t take food out of the tiger’s mouth.”

With only five months since that first fight to change the things Joyce said he needed to adjust, the rematch could play out the same way if Joyce wasn’t able to figure out Zhang’s left hook.

Zhang doesn’t believe the five months between fights is enough time for Joyce to make the adjustments he needs to change the outcome of the rematch.

“In this camp I have three different sparring partners,” Zhang explained. “I have one that throws more punches than Joe, I have one that punches harder than Joe and I have one that weighs a lot more than Joe.

“Five months is too short, he’s going to welcome my punches.”

Joyce replied: “Punches are not welcome here.”

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