The Friday Faceup

‘Wrecking ball’ contest of the weekend should be at the Copper Box Arena on the London 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Saturday. Two elite giants collide when Britain’s Joe ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce (15-0, 14 KO’s) faces Chinese, Zhilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KO’s) for the WBO world ‘interim’ heavyweight title.

The Queensberry and Top Rank promotion sees these huge men, both Olympic super-heavyweight silver medallists – Zhang at Beijing 2008 and Joyce in Rio 2016, collide. Both now as professionals are significant pieces of the muddled world heavyweight puzzle.

As current sanctioning body champions Oleksandr Usyk (IBF, WBA and WBO), Tyson Fury (WBC) and ex-champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder circumnavigate each other to delay coronation of the outright boxing king, it is now left to the next best to duke it out.

Joyce is the mandatory contender for the WBO title held by Usyk, is ranked #4 heavyweight by The Ring magazine, with Zhang just outside of their top ten.

The Chinese brings his enormous 6ft, 6″ frame, power, fast hands and an always awkward southpaw stance to the party. He boldly announced at yesterday’s London press conference “I am the Big Bang…I bang everything…I’m gonna’ land my shots”. Continuing he said “I’m not here in London to sightsee. I’m here to take things…I’m here for a reason – to be the strongest and best one”.

Zhang will be 40 years old in a few weeks and is coming off a much disputed points defeat to Croatian Filip Hyrgovic in his last contest, his sole defeat to date.

Joyce, age 37, and of similar physical stature, albeit taller, when questioned in the conference said “This is the calm before the storm…I’m a tough man”. He added, in reference to his contemporaries, “All the others (champions etc) seem to be running scared”.

On his opponent and fight strategy Joyce said “I respect Zhang’s power and won’t be going in there recklessly… “It could go twelve rounds, but I don’t plan on that”

It’s a contest that is sure to be explosive for as long as it lasts. The general  consensus is that Zhang will be dangerous early and fade in the second half of the fight due to his advancing years and his perceived low workrate. Zhang responded to this supposed flaw identified in defeat to Hrgovic, claiming he thought he was clearly ahead in the fight and he relaxed in the twelfth round.  In an intriguing match-up this should be fully tested tomorrow night in a scheduled twelve rounder.

The contest is considered high risk for both fighters due to their respective knockout ratios and what’s at stake in the world pecking order. Whether the ‘Big Bang’ can detonate or Joyce can safely negotiate the ‘Great Wall’ it should be a good watch.

We think the technical sniping will be high until the first big shot is landed by either man. It could be the Chinese’ fast hands will come as a surprise to the Briton early on, and if clubbed, Joyce may have to come off the canvas to win. We expect him to be victorious by registering a late KO in an attritional fight.

Joyce is known to be ponderous and methodical in his approach; advancing forward in straight lines, taking multiple shots, but his chin has been impervious to date. He will need to show a bit more savvy tomorrow to prevail. His elite amateur pedigree would indicate he does possess this.

At today’s weigh in Joyce scaled 18st, 4lbs (256lbs) compared to Zhang at 19st, 12lbs (278lbs). The Brit comes in almost 14lbs lighter from his previous contest last September against New Zealand’s world ranked Joseph Parker. So far, his standout victory.

Chief support to the big one is an interesting British middleweight (11st, 6lbs/160lbs) title contest between champion Denzel Bentley (17-2-1, (14 KO’s) and unheralded Kieran Smith (18-1, 7 KO’s). Bentley should have too much for his challenger, but is prone to switch off at times. His higher knockout ratio and mixing in better company should be the telling factors.

Also featured, at lightweight are Kent, England’s Sam Noakes (10-0, 10 KO’s) in a test against Indian national Kathik Sathish Kumar (10-0, 4 KO’s). This should be excellent between two undefeated fighters, with Noakes expected to prevail.

Plus, Kent’s young heavyweight prospect Moses Itauma (2-0, 2 KO’s) has his third professional fight. Much is expected of the 18 year old Itauma after a successful amateur career at youth level. Recently turning pro, he has a lofty ambition to become the youngest world heavyweight champion since Mike Tyson showed “Plenty at twenty” when spectacularly ripping the WBC ‘world’ title from Trevor Berbick in November 1986. That record still stands today.

Itauma should safely make it 3-0 against his Ukrainian opponent to remain on course.

The stacked event should be excellent and will be shown live in the UK on BT Sport 1 from 19:00 BST and selected contests on ESPN+ in the US. Settle in for a cracking night’s boxing.

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