A ‘Juggernaut’ reborn: Can Joe Joyce return to form in Zhilei Zhang boxing rematch?

Father Time is undefeated, no matter how many times a fighter has tried to beat him.

The newly-turned 38-year-old Joe Joyce understands this, as he may have a limited time to win heavyweight gold. Seemingly on the latter end of his career, “The Juggernaut” is ready to right what he believes is a wrong and secure his spot back at the top of the heavyweight division. 

Joyce faces 40-year-old Zhilei Zhang in a rematch from their fight in April on September 23. It airs on ESPN+ in the U.S. and TNT Sports in the U.K. It will be in the OVO Arena Wembley in London.

A silver medalist at the 2016 Olympics, Joyce started late in the game as a pro, entering the squared circle in 2017. He swiftly added major belts to his collection, winning the Commonwealth, British, and European heavyweight titles.

MORE: Watch Zhilei Zhang vs. Joe Joyce 2, exclusively on ESPN+

Joyce seemed destined for the biggest prizes when he beat former champion Joseph Parker for the interim WBO heavyweight title. But his hopes came crashing down when Zhang beat him in the sixth round in the Copper Box Arena, badly damaging his eye. 

Joyce has seemingly gone through a similar route as Dillian Whyte, the former interim WBC heavyweight champion who had to wait to face the WBC champion (at the time, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder were completing a trilogy). He defended the interim belt against Alexander Povetkin at Matchroom Fight Camp and got dramatically knocked out. Whyte recovered and beat Povetkin in a rematch, only to lose against Fury when the match seemed too late in the making. 

After the loss, Joyce had to sit by while former opponent Daniel Dubois faced WBA, WBO and IBF champion Oleksandr Usyk on account of his status as WBA ‘regular’ champion. Though there was controversy after a debated low blow, Usyk retained the belts and his status as the unified champion. Usyk may finally fight Fury next after the latter faces former MMA champion Francis Ngannou. If Joyce wins, he still has to wait for a shot at defining glory.

His frustrations have come to light, especially after watching Usyk vs. Dubois. 

“It was frustrating that it was the guy I beat convincingly (Dubois) that got the shot before me,” Joyce told Boxing Scene. “And it bothers me that I was once the WBA gold [champion] and paid the sanctioning fees, and then I was completely out of that [mix]. That’s a route I could’ve taken, but I did the WBO route, and I’m in that position again. But to have to lose to Zhang when I was so close, and I could’ve just waited and took a different shot, it was quite a hard time and lesson to learn.

“I don’t really have time to piece my way back another way, so I have to [rematch Zhang]. Because I could’ve had a fight in the meantime. Someone could’ve fought Zhang instead, or Zhang could’ve had that opportunity at the WBO A ‘Juggernaut’ reborn: Can Joe Joyce return to form in Zhilei Zhang boxing rematch?. But this is why I enacted the immediate rematch [clause]. So I can get back in position.”

MORE: Should Tyson Fury be stripped of the heavyweight title?

Immediately after the loss, doubters trolled Joyce. Eddie Hearn even stated (via IFL TV) that Joyce is not an elite heavyweight. Words like that from Hearn should motivate Joyce to dig deep and prove him and everyone wrong. If not, he could add his name to the long list of heavyweights that fell short after having so much momentum on their side. 

Per Bet MGM, Zhang and Joyce are even (-110) heading into fight week. A few weeks ago, Joyce was the underdog. Training as hard as he can, a heavier Joyce badly wants to win and is ready for the performance of a lifetime in front of a home crowd. 

“I am coming in a lot more dedicated and focused this time, I’ve had a bit more practice with the southpaw style in terms of sparring and tactics going into this fight… Zhilei stopped me in my tracks. You live and learn, and from it, I’ve been more dedicated and more focused to push on and get the title back,” Joyce said to TNT Sports via Eurosport. 

It’s a long way back to the top after crashing into reality. Can Joyce do the impossible and beat Father Time, critics and “Big Bang” Zhang with a vintage “Juggernaut” performance?

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