Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Zhang Makes A Statement With Brutal KO

When it comes to rematches where there was a conclusive outcome in the previous meeting, more often than not, the subject going into the return encounter will be whether it will be repeat or revenge. Often such a subplot is centered on the fighter who was defeated and whether or not they can change the outcome the next time around. Perhaps those of us in the media should start approaching rematches from a slightly new perspective.

A perspective such as whether the fighter who emerged victorious in the previous encounter can produce the same outcome in a rematch being a victory, and could they do so in an even more convincing fashion. When top Heavyweight contender Zhilei Zhang scored a convincing sixth round stoppage of undefeated top contender and former Olympic Gold medalist Joe Joyce earlier this year, it was a convincing stoppage as the effects of the punishment he was able to dish out was such that it caused significant swelling to Joyce's right eye to the point where he could not see, thus forcing the stoppage. Despite the clear victory, Joyce, a fighter known for both his punching power and his ability to absorb punishment, was never knocked off his feet. This in addition to Zhang being the first fighter to defeat Joyce as a professional, fueled demand for a rematch.

A rematch that would take place on September 23rd at the historic Wembley Arena in London, England. As was the case the first time around and perhaps in spite of his dominant performance in April of this year when these two fighters met, Zhang was viewed as a significant underdog. While no one should ever diminish the enthusiasm and fandom of a Boxing fan, it was hard to gloss over what Zhang was able to do in the first fight even though there were some who were of the opinion that Joyce may have been able to turn things around in that fight as it progressed into the middle and late rounds, had it not been for the condition of his eye. It is certainly possible for a fighter to have what this observer often refers to as "A Bad Night At The Office" because fighters, like the rest of us, are only human. For yours truly however, I could not simply dismiss Zhang as a favorite going into the rematch based simply on a "What Might Have Been" possibility. It is also worth noting in taking nothing away from Joyce's reputation, Zhang had a lot of the same attributes going into the first fight including punching power and Olympic pedigree as a former Silver medalist in the 2008 games as a Super Heavyweight.

Nevertheless, with a lot of the buzz going into the rematch centered on Joyce and some merely dismissing what he had done in the first encounter, I was interested to see what Zhang would try to do to attempt to improve on an impressive performance. From the opening bell, it was clear that there was only one fighter in the ring that was prepared in all aspects for the second meeting and that fighter was Zhilei Zhang. 

If one were to ask yours truly to describe Zhang's approach to someone who was only a casual observer of the sport, the best words I could use are"Patient" and "Surgical." Perhaps because he came in twenty pounds heavier than he was in the first fight, Joyce hardly threw any punches, was hesitant and did not appear willing to engage. Zhang simply took his time and took advantage of whatever openings Joyce gave him. Rather than being overly aggressive, which might have been a strategy of Joyce's corner, Zhang simply bided his time. He also was able to do something in the first two rounds that had not been done to Joyce before, he staggered him with both his left and right hands. 

After seeing that Joyce did not want to let his hands go and the reaction his body showed to being hit, my immediate thought was the fight would not last long and that clearly Joyce made a bad decision to invoke a rematch so soon after taking a significant beating five months earlier. No sooner did that thought cross my mind, the fight ended in brutal fashion. Late in the third round, Zhang connected with a perfectly timed right hook to the jaw that sent Joyce down hard face first on the canvas. If Zhilei Zhang's victory in the first fight was convincing, his one punch knockout over a previously iron-chinned Joyce should be viewed as an emphatic statement-making performance in proving that the outcome of the first fight was not a fluke.

While Zhilei Zhang is one step from fighting for a world championship as the WBO's number one Heavyweight contender, this second loss for Joe Joyce should probably serve as a cautionary tale for fighters and more specifically those who are tasked with the responsibility of looking out for the long-term well-being for those fighters to not rush into a rematch even if you might be contractually entitled to one as Joyce was here.

Clearly Joyce was not recovered from what he suffered physically from in the first fight and now there may be cause for concern as to whether he should continue on with his career. There have been countless fighters who have lost back to back fights or even more than that and have been able to rebound throughout the history of Boxing, but when a fighter shows obvious signs of not having punch resistance, nor the ability to throw punches consistently, it is time to seriously consider the fighter's health and what the goal might be for life after Boxing.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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