SN’s heavyweight boxing rankings: Zhang rises following second Joyce triumph

Many felt Zhilei Zhang’s first stoppage win over Joe Joyce was an aberration and that order would be restored in the rematch. After all, the Englishman had been halted due to a badly swollen right eye and would make the necessary adjustments.

Well, you can park that opinion beside the burned-out “Juggernaut”.

On Saturday, Zhang picked up where he left off in fight one and hammered Joyce to a third-round knockout defeat. Again, the Chinese hero’s southpaw stance and quick-hitting bewildered Joyce, who had absolutely no answers before being cleaned out by a single right hook.

It was a ruthless performance by the 40-year-old Zhang, who is now in a position to challenge the division elite as evidenced by his top-5 position in these rankings. Conversely, Joyce drops for the second time in two fights and his future hangs in the balance.

The Sporting News takes a look at the top 12 heavyweights in the world today:

MORE: Zhilei Zhang vs. Joe Joyce 2 full card results, Zhang crushes Juggernaut in three

12. Frank Sanchez

  • Record: 22-0 (15 KOs)
  • Age: 31

Sanchez was generally regarded as the finest prospect in heavyweight boxing and he’s been no less impressive since making the transition to contender.

At 6-4 and 250 pounds, “The Cuban Flash” is part of the new breed and the sum of his parts is impressive. Despite his size, Sanchez possesses excellent hand speed, adept positioning, athleticism, and solid technique.

He’s yet to mix with an elite-level opponent but passes the eye test with flying colors. Previously trained by former Ring Magazine Trainer of the Year Eddie Reynoso, Sanchez has since made the switch to Joe Goossen.

Next fight: No fight scheduled

MORE: Who are the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today?

11. Filip Hrgovic

  • Record: 16-0 (13 KOs)
  • Age: 31

A former amateur standout, Hrgovic captured Olympic bronze at Rio 2016 before turning professional the following year.

The Croatian boxer-puncher was impressive during the embryonic stages of his career and concussive stoppage wins became the order of the day. Trained by veteran coaches Ronnie Shields and Pedro Diaz, Hrgovic made steady improvement and there were many who felt it was a case of “when” not “if” he would win a world title.

However, Hrgovic was pushed to the wire by Chinese heavyweight Zhilei Zhang and he wasn’t at his best in a 12th-round stoppage of the previously unbeaten Dempsey McKean.

Next fight: As the IBF’s No. 1 contender, Hrgovic is in line to face Oleksandr Usyk.

10. Joseph Parker

  • Record: 32-3 (21 KOs)
  • Age: 31

This amiable New Zealander is a former WBO heavyweight champion who still harbours hopes of getting back on top.

Parker, 31, has sound technique, good movement, and hitting power. These are the very attributes that have seen him secure solid wins over the likes of Andy Ruiz (MD 12), Hughie Fury (MD 12), and Derek Chisora (SD 12, UD 12).

While he has suffered setbacks to Anthony Joshua (UD 12), Dillian Whyte (UD 12), and Joe Joyce (KO 11), Parker was competitive in all of those fights. If he’s fully motivated and in form, the ex-champ will give any heavyweight a tough night’s work.

Next fight: No fight scheduled.

9. Joe Joyce

  • Record: 15-2 (14 KOs)
  • Age: 38

Joyce looked like the future of the heavyweight division and was being marketed as such. Unfortunately, Chinese star Zhilei Zhang hadn’t read the script and has now crushed the “Juggernaut” twice.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport and your luck can change in an instant. Less than six months ago, the boxing world was Joyce’s oyster and now he’s being advised by the vast majority of fans and experts to retire.

The Olympic bronze medallist’s career-best win came against countryman Daniel Dubois in 2020. With both men coming off losses (Dubois succumbed to a ninth-round knockout at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in August), maybe a rematch would be timely. Both men are promoted by Frank Warren and fight on the same network.

Next fight: Nothing scheduled

8. Luis Ortiz

  • Record: 33-3 (28 KOs)
  • Age: 44

Ortiz honed his technique in the Cuban amateur system before defecting to the U.S. to begin his pro career at the very late age of 31.

Now 44, it’s fair to say that Ortiz has begun a slow decline. His signature triumphs came against Bryant Jennings (TKO 7) and Tony Thompson (KO 6), but those victories seem like a lifetime ago.

Snake-bitten by then-WBC champion Deontay Wilder, who came from behind to stop Ortiz twice, the Cuban star is still considered a legitimate heavyweight force.

In his most recent outing, the southpaw veteran survived two knockdowns before losing a very close decision to Andy Ruiz.

Next fight: No fight scheduled

7. Dillian Whyte

  • Record: 29-3 (19 KOs)
  • Age: 35

One of the most experienced fighters in the division, Whyte has shown the desire and hunger to face any heavyweight out there, but his career is in the balance right now.

Hailing from London, by way of Jamaica, the 35-year-old power puncher has scored impressive wins over Derek Chisora (SD 12, KO 11), Joseph Parker (UD 12), and Oscar Rivas (UD 12).

When it did come time for a world title opportunity, Whyte fell way short against Tyson Fury, who scored an emphatic sixth-round stoppage over his countryman in April 2022.

Whyte has since bounced back with a close decision win over American Jermaine Franklin, but a failed VADA test led to the cancellation of a rematch with Anthony Joshua.

Next fight: N/A

MORE: Larry Holmes explains why Ken Norton fight ranks as ‘My Sweetest Victory’

6. Andy Ruiz

  • Record: 35-2 (22 KOs)
  • Age: 33

In December 2016, following 29 straight wins, Ruiz suffered a decision defeat to Joseph Parker (MD 12) in a bout for the vacant WBO title. This setback seemed to throw the Mexican American star off course and he was very inactive over the next two-and-half years.

However, a dream opportunity to face then-unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in June 2019 changed everything. A huge underdog, Ruiz decked Joshua three times and claimed a sensational seventh-round stoppage.

Unfortunately, one of the greatest upsets in heavyweight history was followed by one of the worst performances in recent memory. Six months later, Ruiz came into the Joshua rematch completely out of shape and surrendered his crown on a wide unanimous decision.

Now working with Canelo’s coach, Eddy Reynoso, Ruiz stays relevant by virtue of a 12-round unanimous decision over Luis Ortiz in September.

Next fight: Nothing scheduled.

5. Zhilei Zhang

  • Record: 26-1-1 (21 KOs)
  • Age: 40

An Olympic silver medalist at the Beijing Games in 2008, Zhang was largely on a slow burn after turning pro in 2014. The Chinese goliath looked ordinary, bashing up low-tier opposition before being held to a draw by American Jerry Forrest in 2021.

Then everything changed.

On April 15, in London, Zhang was expected to make fast-rising British star Joe Joyce look like a heavyweight champion in the making. Things didn’t go to plan. The visitor boxed brilliantly, shutting Joyce’s right eye and dominating the bout until it was stopped in the sixth round.

The hard-hitting lefty received huge credit for giving unbeaten Croatian Filip Hrgovic all he could handle before dropping a questionable decision last August. Now with a second win over Joyce on his resume, he is knocking on the door of the division’s best.

Next fight: Nothing scheduled.

MORE: Evander Holyfield explains why Mike Tyson fight ranks as ‘My Sweetest Victory’

4. Anthony Joshua

  • Record: 26-3 (23 KOs)
  • Age: 33

Despite being a two-time unified champion, the critics have had the knives out for a piece of AJ over the past several years.

Following his stoppage defeat to Andy Ruiz in June 2019, Joshua has struggled to maintain consistency. He bounced back to defeat Ruiz in a return fight before taking Kubrat Pulev apart, but back-to-back decision losses to Oleksandr Usyk damaged his reputation.

On April 1, Joshua scored a 12-round unanimous decision over American Jermaine Franklin. It was a solid enough win, but the trademark aggression and combination punching was missing from the performance.

It was the same again before Joshua cleaned out late-replacement Robert Helenius with a one-punch knockout in the seventh round.

Next fight: AJ has been linked to a 2024 bout with Deontay Wilder.

3. Deontay Wilder

  • Record: 43-2-1 (42 KOs)
  • Age: 37

Arguably the greatest one-punch hitter boxing has ever seen, Wilder remains one of the most dangerous sharks in the heavyweight ocean.

While Tyson Fury has inflicted the only blemishes (two losses and a draw) on Wilder’s otherwise perfect record, “The Bronze Bomber” remains a threat to any opponent he shares the ring with. 

Many felt that Robert Helenius could provide Wilder with a stern technical test when the pair met in October. Instead, the former European champ suffered a one-punch, first-round knockout defeat and was left staring up at the lights with a look of terror on his face.

Wilder made 10 successful defences of the WBC title, and if he hits the bullseye against any of the elite, he’ll be a two-time heavyweight champion in the time it takes the referee to count 10.

Next fight: Nothing official, though “The Bronze Bomber” has been linked to a 2024 bout with Anthony Joshua.

MORE: Tyson Fury explains why Deontay Wilder 3 fight ranks as ‘My Sweetest Victory’

2. Oleksandr Usyk

  • Record: 21-0 (14 KOs)
  • Age: 36

Currently one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Usyk remains on course to become an all-time great.

In 2018, the Ukrainian lefty became the second man in history to completely unify the cruiserweight division (the other was Evander Holyfield). What’s most impressive about this accomplishment is that Usyk won all of the titles on the road.

When Usyk moved to heavyweight, there were critics who counted him out due to his lack of size. That was a mistake. Usyk was dazzling in his first triumph over Anthony Joshua, which saw him lay claim to IBF, WBA, and WBO titles, and he doubled down by defeating a superior version of AJ in a rematch, which saw him pick up the vacant Ring Magazine crown.

Unfortunately, an undisputed title fight against Tyson Fury failed to materialize for April 29. Usyk stayed busy with a ninth-round stoppage of mandatory challenger Dubois, who he floored in round eight before putting him out of his misery for what was his first stoppage win since halting Chazz Witherspoon in 2019. 

Next fight: Nothing scheduled.

1. Tyson Fury

  • Record: 33-0-1 (24 KOs)
  • Age: 34

There have been myriad peaks and troughs in the career of Tyson Fury but the gargantuan Englishman remains the glamour division’s top dog in 2023.

“The Gypsy King” lay claim to his destiny by dethroning then-unified heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko almost eight years ago. He then hit a massive slump, which included a failed UKAD test for which he received a retroactive ban; mental health issues, recreational drug use, and a weight gain of approximately 140 pounds.

Fury’s career was essentially over… and then it wasn’t. Thanks to incredible willpower and hard work, Fury improved his mental health by getting back down to fighting weight.

Following a two-and-a-half-year layoff, he defeated Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta before challenging the then-unbeaten Deontay Wilder for the WBC title. Wilder retained on a controversial draw, but Fury dominated the American in the rematch to become a two-time heavyweight champion. The trilogy bout was a classic, later named The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year, and once again it was the British star who won by stoppage.

Fury, 34, has made two successful defences since, against Dillian Whyte (TKO 6) and Derek Chisora (TKO 11). However, fans are desperate to see the Usyk and Joshua matchups, and frustration is mounting.

Next fight: Faces Francis Ngannou on October 28.

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