What happened in Joe Joyce vs. Zhilei Zhang 1? Will the rematch winner fight Usyk?


Boxing is the most unpredictable of sports and even more unpredictable at heavyweight level.

This proved to be true once again when Zhilei Zhang outboxed and stopped highly touted British contender Joe Joyce on April 15 in London. The bout was called off midway through Round 6.

On September 23, the pair will go at it again at the Wembley Arena in London. Zhang will be hoping to find the target as easily as he did in that dramatic first encounter, whereas Joyce will be looking to execute an entirely different game plan and take revenge on the Chinese lefty.

One could hear the shock reverberate through the crowd the last time these two swapped punches. Joyce had no defence against Zhang’s left hand and couldn not make the necessary adjustments. The home fighter was rocked back on his heels as early as Round 2 and his opponent continued to tee off at will.

WATCH: Sign up for Zhilei Zhang vs. Joe Joyce 2 live, exclusively on ESPN+ 

The British fighter dug deep in the third, fourth, and fifth, but all of his success came by way of volume punching. Joyce wasn’t scoring cleanly, whereas Zhang’s accurate left hand was doing significant damage. By Round 5, Joyce’s right eye was almost swollen shut, and a few more straight lefts down the middle in the sixth convinced referee Howard Foster to call a halt to the action. The official time was 1:23.

Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) entered the ring as a -900 favourite that night but left it with his first professional defeat and a grotesquely swollen eye. As per his contract for fight one, the Englishman had a rematch clause in the event that he lost and that’s why Zhang versus Joyce 2 is up next on the big fight calendar.

What is a rematch clause?

The rematch clause is modern boxing’s ultimate safety valve with its own pros and cons. While vanquished fighters get a fair chance to right a wrong, the process also slows down certain divisions, which means that top contenders are deprived of opportunities.

Over the past couple of years, rematches have been all the rage. Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fought three times. Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk fought twice. We’re not that far removed from Liam Smith vs. Chris Eubank Jr. 2. Pretty soon, we’ll be witnessing Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr. 2.

This is all okay until you think about some of the matchups we haven’t seen once.

But don’t expect the process to change anytime soon. It’s become customary for rematch clauses to be included in contracts and fans are often treated to sequels they have no interest in seeing. A recent example would be Devin Haney vs. George Kambosos 2, which was almost a carbon copy of the original that Haney had dominated.

MORE: SN’s Top 12 heavyweight boxing ratings

Will the winner of Zhang vs. Joyce 2 fight Oleksandr Usyk?

The winner of Zhang vs. Joyce 2 is almost certain to be installed as the WBO’s mandatory challenger and would therefore be in a position to face Usyk. However, that might sound better than it actually is.

Usyk holds three governing body titles (IBF, WBA, and WBO). The Ukrainian southpaw successfully defended his titles against then-WBA mandatory challenger Daniel Dubois in August and will be resting over the next several months.

When Usyk does return to the ring, the hope is that a long-awaited undisputed showdown with WBC counterpart Tyson Fury takes place. But if that snake-bitten matchup doesn’t transpire, then Usyk’s next mandatory obligation is IBF No. 1 Filip Hrgovic of Croatia.

Yes, it’s highly likely that the Zhang vs. Joyce 2 winner will continue to play the waiting game.

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