Monday, April 17, 2023

Zhilei Zhang Shoes Why Anything Can Happen In Boxing

It is a mantra that has come out of this observer's mouth perhaps more often than others. "Anything Can Happen In The Sport Of Boxing, And That Is What Makes The Sport Great." It is a mantra that is rooted in the fact that regardless of all the statistics that are available, odds that might be placed on a fight, and, despite all the analysis that those who cover the sport, like yours truly, can off, ultimately the appeal of Boxing is not knowing what will really happen when two fighters enter a ring to do battle. While it is something that was instilled in me from an early age dating back to the time before I began my writing journey covering Boxing and other combat sports, it does at times still surprise me how some are surprised when something unexpected happens inside the ring.

The Heavyweight encounter between undefeated WBO number one Heavyweight contender Joe Joyce and Heavyweight contender Zhilei Zhang on April 15th in London, England serves as the latest example. Despite Zhang only having one loss in his career, he was viewed by some as a significant underdog against Joyce, who had earned his number one ranking in the World Boxing Organization's (WBO) rankings off of a string of impressive knockouts including in his last fight in being the first to stop former WBO Heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker last September.

With Joyce unfortunately not being close to getting his title shot, which was covered by yours truly in previewing this bout, it facilitated the need for him to fight to maintain his number one ranking. Although Joyce had an arena full of supporters at London's Copper Box Arena, it would become clear rather quickly that this fight would not be a mere "Tune Up" while he was waiting for his shot at the WBO title currently held by undefeated WBO/IBF/WBA/IBO world champion Oleksandr Usyk. While Joyce's path to a world title had stalled through no fault of his own, Zhilei Zhang only saw opportunity.

From the opening bell the southpaw Zhang found a home for his punches working behind his right jab and following it up with flush right hands to the face of Joyce. Although Joyce had also earned a reputation prior to this fight for his ability to take a punch, otherwise referred to as having a solid or "Granite Chin,"' his defensive liabilities emerged in this fight. Most notably his inability to move his head as Zhang was able to land frequently to his head and at times, through his defensive guard. This in addition to peroidic effective work Zhang was also ablecto do to Joyce's body made it clear that the unbeaten Heavyweight was facing an uphill battle.

Despite doing his best to return offense, which did work sporadically, it was not long before the effects of accumulated punishment began to show as Zhang's steady flow of solid left hands resulted in Joyce's right eye rapidly closing. By round six, Joyce's right eye was swollen shut and with no way to defend against the offense of Zhang, appearing as though he could not see out of his right eye, Referee Howard Foster consulted with a ringside physician two times both prior to the start of round six and after halting the action during the round before they collectively made the decision to stop the fight.

For Zhilei Zhang, his win in getting a stoppage over the previously unbeaten former Olympic Gold medalist Joe Joyce not only now catapults him into a mandatory position as far as being a mandatory challenger in the WBO Heavyweight ratings, not only serves as the biggest win of his career, but also in some way likely seems like redemption for him after he suffered a controversial loss in the eyes of some in losing s twelve round split decision to undefeated contender Filip Hrgovic in his last fight prior to facing Joyce where he lost the fight and with it his undefeated record. A lesson that can be learned here for fighters is that a loss does not signal the end of one's career, but those setbacks that in all honesty most fighters suffer at some point throughout their careers can be used as motivation for a fighter to bounce back as Zhang has done here. 

As many fighters have done before him, Joe Joyce must first recover from the beating that was administered at the hands of Zhilei Zhang. Once he has recovered, the process of resuming his career can begin. One defeat does not signal the end of a fighter's career, but it is how that fighter deals with defeat that often shows the mark of a great fighter as those who are able to bounce back and go on to win world titles and gain greater recognition in the process are often referred to when their careers are over. The loss to Zhilei Zhang is the end of a chapter in the story of the career of Joe Joyce, it is not the end of the story itself.

The primary lesson to take from this fight if you are a fan is never approach any fight with the mentality that what you are about to watch is a forgone conclusion. As we have seen time and time again, decade after decade, "Anything Can Happen At Any Given Time In The Sport Of Boxing, And That Is What Makes The Sport So Great."

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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