Joe Joyce’s career as a top heavyweight looks over after crushing loss to Zhilei Zhang

Boxing careers can turn on one punch or bad performance and Joe Joyce’s time as a leading heavyweight looks to be over after a devastating defeat to Zhilei Zhang on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old from Putney was on a revenge mission after losing his WBO Interim world heavyweight title to the big Chinese southpaw in April.

There was the usual PR spin before the rematch at Wembley Arena about Joyce learning from the first loss of his professional career and implementing a style that would outfox Zhang.

The reality was that Joyce – nicknamed The Juggernaut – put in a terrible display.

The former Earlsfield ABC amateur looked nervous during his ring walk and even more jittery once the bout started.

Joyce came in at a career heaviest 281.2lbs – 25lbs heavier than his last ring appearance – that only made him more ponderous and leaden-footed.

The first round was a scouting mission by both men but Joyce endured a torrid end to the second once Zhang, inset, began to land heavy shots.

Zhilei Zhang celebrates after defeating Joe Joyce in the WBO ‘Interim’ Heavyweight Title match at the OVO Arena Wembley, London. Picture date: Saturday September 23, 2023.

The finish in the third round was brutal. Joyce had his left hand low and Zhang unleashed a crunching right that dropped him face down.

Joyce was counted out by referee Steve Gray despite just beating the count.

The former GB amateur star has always been easy to hit but before his encounters with Zhang he seemed to have a granite chin.

Now that Joyce’s punch resistance has waned, it is hard to see how he can rebuild – even if that was his instant reaction in the dressing room after seeing his record drop to 15-2.

“He’s got to have a think about things and what he’s got to offer the heavyweight division,” Joyce’s promoter Frank Warren told the South London Press.

Joyce said: “I’m ready to go again and find another route – my career is not over. I’m not done yet. I’ve not got that many miles on the clock.

“I’ll be in some other great fights. I’ll have to watch it (the Zhang bout) back, reflect then go on holiday, have some time off.

“He’s a good fighter and caught me with a good shot – when you take risks they don’t always go your way.”

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