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  • What can Joyce do differently this time around?
  • Don’t play Pat-A-Cake
  • Screw Shots, Zhang’s head placement
  • Go backwards
  • Hook don’t jab
  • Simultaneous left hook
  • Body shots

This coming Saturday Big Joe Joyce will have a chance at redemption when he takes on China’s Zhilei Zhang in the long-awaited rematch of the two clobbering giants. The bout will take place in Wembley’s historic OVO Arena. The WBO interim heavyweight title that Zhang so viciously snatched from Joyce in their last meeting will yet again be up for grabs.

The first fight, which took place back in April was called to a halt in the sixth round of a twelve round championship fight due to swelling on Joyce’s eye. Though that does not really tell the tale of the fight, it was no freak injury in an otherwise completive match, no, the injury was the result of a frightening and absolute beatdown that Zhang comfortably dished out on the tough Brit.

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Many fans and pundits alike were shocked at just how good and comfortable the elderly Chinese brawler looked. The fight was meant to follow the formula of every Joyce bout, Zhang is slow, he is lazy and has looked completely disinterested in previous outings, he was meant to start well but fade, allowing Joyce to pounce on him, utilising his impressive engine and punch output to wear Zhang down and stop him late.

That’s not what happened, instead Zhang showed us the talent that took him all the way to an Olympic final in 2008 and in doing so was just too good for “The Juggernaut”. He manoeuvred his opponent with the smooth and subtle ease of a ballroom dancer, dictating Joyce’s movement and leading him into his thudding left hand, his timing was impeccable, taking advantage of every gap Joyce left to smash his thunderous hands into especially Joyce’s body to which he stabbed with short straight punches and his power was awe inspiring, no he could not knock Joyce out in the six rounds he was given so he broke his face instead.

Joyce has had five months to make the requisite improvements but at 37 years old can Joyce really have learned everything he will need in order to defeat Zhang? Can a pretty old dog learn some new tricks?

What can Joyce do differently this time around?

What happened in April was inevitable and a long time coming, Joyce has been far too happy to take punishment during his career and in boxing there will always be a punch your chin cannot take. Boxing’s history imparts this lesson upon all who take the time to look. If all-time greats like Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes can be stopped, it was utter madness or perhaps arrogance that Joyce and his team believed he was simply built different. It’s a hard ask for Joyce to turn this around and nab himself a victory this weekend but perhaps there are things he can do differently to at least present Zhang with a new and baffling challenge. 

Don’t play Pat-A-Cake

Zhang has the habit of pawing and probing non offensively with both his lead and rear hand. This fencing tactic is something he carries from his time in the amateurs and he uses it to tremendous effect. Joyce kept trying to meet it with his own fencing arm and thus fell into the trap, Zhang was not just probing, he was actively manoeuvring Joyces own gloves in front of his own face and left eye, impeding his vision then striking. Also, Joyce’s fencing arm gave Zhang something calculate and time, there was no need to look at Joyce’s feet because all the clues were up top. If Joyce keeps his lead hand in and gives Zhang nothing to paw at, he will take away a crucial marker that his opponent relied on last time to deliver his thudding left hands. Like taking wind speed readings away from a sniper. 

Screw Shots, Zhang’s head placement

Zhang is a textbook boxer who has absolutely mastered the fundamentals but he has one staggering weakness, he naturally leaves his head forward over his front knee, this leaves him open to screw shots and long-range uppercuts. Screw shots are a better bet than the stiff but sloppy right hands he relied on last time. Shooting through the middle and knocking Zhang’s big head back, taking his eagle eyes off of his target. This will hurt his opponent but also give time to re-adjust and move without counters coming back.

Go backwards

Boxing on the back foot may seem alien to Joyce and his supporters but it will put the emphasis on his relatively elderly opponent to come forward and do what he hates, work. Zhang is very good but also very lazy and wants his prey to come to him. It will also Make him reach and over extend with his shots and in doing so take a bit of the venom out of his punches and also leave him open for a split second longer, leaving him open and more hittable. The more he has to move and commit the more he will tire and the easier he will be to tag and the longer he is out of punching shape the more safe time Joyce will have.

Hook don’t jab

Joyce has a great jab but it’s too readable and Zhang showed us that he has its number but re-watch the first fight and it’s obvious to see that every time Joyce leads with a lead hook it gave Zhang a shock and even riled him on a couple of occasions as that wasn’t the rhythm that Zhang had trained for. Zhang wants straight lines and straight punches; give him a few curves and watch him flounder.

Simultaneous left hook

Zhang is going to throw the left, it lands and it is destructive but when he commits to it his right hand falls down to his naval and his head lurches forward, a prime target for a left hook that Joyce needs to throw in tandem with Zhang. The Chinese behemoth’s straight left is a thing of near perfection but he does leave gaps.

Body shots

Joyce would do well to finish every combination he throws at Zhang with a body hook. This will mean that he is constantly taking his head off of the centre line when finishing his offensive work without actually having to think about formal defence. Two birds, one stone.

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These are just some changes Joyce needs to make in order to stand a chance at defeating Zhang. But even if so, this going to be a very hard mountain to climb for the granite chinned Londoner. Though the chance that the lazy Zhang may come into the ring un-interested and drop a decision is always present.

Sometimes fighters just find an opponent that seems to be their personal kryptonite, Ali had Norton and Pacquiao had Marquez. Perhaps Joyce found his in Zhang. 

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