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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Matt Verri

Joe Joyce interview: Dark moments after Zhilei Zhang defeats... but I can still become world champion

There is no good time to lose back-to-back fights, but Joe Joyce has found there to be a particularly inopportune one.

As boxing’s heavyweight division sets up increasingly permanent residence in Saudi Arabia, Joyce returns to the ring tomorrow night at the Resorts World Arena in Birmingham.

A year ago, the British heavyweight would have been a prime candidate for a share of the Riyadh riches. Holding the WBO interim belt, he was front of the queue for a world title shot at Oleksandr Usyk.

Two defeats to Zhilei Zhang have dropped Joyce down the pack, forcing a rebuild that begins with a 10-round bout against Kash Ali.

The 38-year-old insists retirement was never a consideration and, as he lays out his vision for the rest of his career, it is clear that lucrative Middle East possibilities are firmly on his mind.

“Get some good wins, throw a title in the mix somewhere, earn some decent money,” Joyce tells Standard Sport.

“Then I can think about retirement — once I’ve made enough and had enough good fights.”

Joe Joyce stopped Joseph Parker in September 2022 (PA)

Joyce was beaten by Zhang in a rematch last September, stopped in the third round by a huge right hand, and there have been regular reminders of what could have been ever since.

Daniel Dubois, defeated by Joyce in 2020, picked up a statement win in Saudi Arabia in December. Joseph Parker, a man Joyce knocked out only 18 months ago, now holds that WBO interim title after seeing off Deontay Wilder and Zhang.

“There’s been some tough moments,” Joyce admits, reflecting on the past six months. “Life is not easy, especially when everyone is watching and commenting.

“It it tough to do it year in, year out. People talk about when you should retire — everyone likes to get involved. There are some dark moments but, like in life, you have to get back on your feet and dust yourself off.”

Joyce has grown accustomed to the noise, commentary on what can appear a cumbersome style nothing new. His ability, and so often willingness, to take a punch has often been presented as a key strength, but the question is whether that approach can work at the top level.

He interrupts: “Everyone was saying, ‘Oh, your chin...’ and then I got f****ing knocked out in the third round. They jinxed me!”

Joe Joyce was beaten emphatically by Zhilei Zhang in their rematch (Action Images via Reuters)

Joyce dismisses the suggestion that his punch resistance may have diminished, instead crediting a “really powerful” Zhang. Even at 38, he maintains he can address his weaknesses. So, what are they?

“Defence would be a good one,” Joyce laughs.

“I can dish it out and receive it, but I’d prefer not to. Maybe I could move out the way, perhaps block. That would be better.”

An understatement of heavyweight proportions, but essential, you would think, if Joyce is to share a ring with the likes of Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua before hanging up his gloves.

The Juggernaut 2.0 is tomorrow night let loose on Ali, a fighter infamously known for biting David Price during a 2019 bout. Defeat would likely be career-ending, but Joyce is still hungry for the sport’s ultimate prize.

“I haven’t got to the top of the mountain,” he says.

“I was almost there with the WBO interim — how much closer can you get while the other belts are being held up for the undisputed fight? I still believe I can become a world champion.”

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