Joe Joyce was the closest he’s ever been to fight for a heavyweight world title. He was the WBO mandatory challenger to champion Oleksandr Usyk and was also mentioned as a possible opponent to the other champ in the division, Tyson Fury. On paper he had the skills, power and experience to compete at that level.
Joyce will now have to start over after losing a sixth-round TKO to Zhilei Zhang in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN+ card at the Copper Box in London on Saturday.
Joyce, who has a great chin, was roughed up by Zhang, who landed his left hand with ease and damaged Joyce’s right eye, forcing the ring doctor to advise referee Howard Foster to stop the bout.
In the co-main event, Mikaela Mayer looked impressive in her first fight at lightweight, scoring a unanimous decision victory over late replacement Lucy Wildheart. Mayer’s original opponent, Christina Linardatou, failed a prefight eye exam before Friday’s weigh-in and was forced to withdraw.
Mayer’s final goal is to face division champion Katie Taylor, but is she ready?
Nick Parkinson shares his thoughts on Joyce’s future, Zhang’s next step and Mayer’s chances against the top fighter at 135 pounds.
Is Joyce finished after losing to Zhang, and is Zhang a serious threat to Usyk and Fury?
Joyce, 37, insisted it wasn’t the end after losing Saturday and, given Zhang turns 40 in a couple weeks after recovering from a defeat in his last fight, you cannot dismiss “The Juggernaut” just yet.
But if Joyce does not get an immediate rematch with Zhang, his title hopes look slim unless Fury, the WBC champion and who also works with Queensberry Promotions in the UK, opts for a voluntary defense.
And going on Saturday’s performance, Joyce looks too much of a static target for the sharp boxing skills of Usyk and Fury, or the power of former champions Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
Joyce’s promoter is likely to push for an immediate rematch since Zhang is not going to be getting a shot at the WBO title held by Usyk, who also has the WBA and IBF belts, for another year (the IBF mandatory challenger is the first in line to face Usyk).
If Zhang holds out for the title shot, perhaps a fight against fellow Londoner Dillian Whyte, who was ringside Saturday, will appeal to Joyce.
Given his age, Zhang will want a title shot as soon as he can, especially after his best win yet.
Zhang landed 18 more power punches than Joyce in his sixth round win, according to CompuBox stats. Zhang’s accuracy, especially in the power punch category (56%), nullified Joyce’s work rate and enjoyed great success with his left hand.
But let’s not get carried away by the upset and possibility of another fairytale, veteran heavyweight world champion like George Foreman, who was 46 when he held the world heavyweight title in 1995.
Usyk and Fury both have too much head movement and footwork, great jabs and superior ring intelligence to ensure Zhang will not trouble them.
Is Mayer ready for Katie Taylor?
Yes. Mayer will be a problem for Taylor.
But Taylor will still be expected to prevail.
Mayer rebounded from her first professional defeat to Alycia Baumgardner in style with a landslide decision win over Lucy Wildheart, who stepped in at 24 hours’ notice Saturday.
Mayer, in her lightweight debut after losing her junior lightweight titles to Baumgardner in October, had too much quality and, according to CompuBox stats, set a new career high in body punches landed in a round (18 in round five), and body punches landed in a fight (116).
Although she is coming up from a lighter weight class, Mayer is bigger than Taylor by four inches, rangy and has great technique. Both are former Olympians (Taylor won gold at 2012, Mayer missed out on a medal four years later) and the American has youth on her side (four years younger).
However, Taylor is undoubtedly the favorite, and Saturday’s win over a late replacement opponent did nothing to alter my opinion on that. Taylor is a two-weight class world champion, and by the time she fights Mayer could be undisputed champ at two weight divisions.
Taylor holds wins over big names like Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill and Natasha Jonas. Mayer’s résumé can’t compete with that.
Mayer, from Colorado, said after the fight: “I do believe that Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano are supposed to go over their rematch, so assuming that still happens, which I think it is, then I’ll challenge the winner of that [fight] … I belong in big fights, I belong in world title fights, I am in my prime and I feel great, so I want the toughest challengers possible and right now at 135 that’s Katie Taylor.”