Why 'Juggernaut' Joe Joyce Might Be Britain's Favourite Heavyweight

Joyce faces Zhilei Zhang this weekend
07:00, 11 Apr 2023

Joe Joyce finds himself in a unique position. The WBO interim heavyweight champion might just be Britain’s most popular heavyweight by default. As ‘Juggernaut’ prepares to face Zhilei Zhang in a battle of Olympic silver medalists, he does so while carrying an ever-increasing weight of expectation. But the fact he’s willing to defend his reputation in the ring rather than at a negotiating table has seen his stock rocket.

Anthony Joshua’s laboured points win over Jermaine Franklin a couple of weeks ago did little to endear him to a public rapidly losing interest. ‘AJ’ has not looked like the same fighter since his 2019 defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. Nothing short of a quick knockout would have been enough against ‘989 Assassin’ and a stoppage only briefly looked on.


Until recently, this landscape had allowed WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury a clear run at the unofficial title of Britain’s favourite big man. But ‘The Gypsy King’ has alienated fans with his machinations at the negotiating table. High profile, public offers to fight Joshua and WBA/WBO/IBF/The Ring champion Oleksandr Usyk were reneged upon, with previously unstated deadlines and amended purse splits used as excuses. The goodwill Fury had built up by beating the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder is slowly eroding. His two most recent fights, wins over Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora, were not as well-received as what went before.

Which leaves Joyce. ‘Juggernaut’ has impressed fans by amassing a 15-0 record and registering 14 knockouts along the way. Shirking the usual soft-touch route of an Olympic medalist, Joyce has been matched strong since turning pro. His first fight was a win over former British heavyweight title challenger Ian Lewison. To put that into perspective, Whyte fought the same foe in his 20th pro fight.

The hits have kept coming for Joyce. He knocked off former WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne in his eighth professional, following it up with consecutive wins over former world title challengers Alexander Ustinov and Bryant Jennings. Joyce’s real breakthrough arrived when a thudding shot into the ear of Daniel Dubois made the unbeaten Brit quit in 2020. ‘Juggernaut’ netted the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles in the process.


Dubois has gone on to win the moderately-regarded WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight title since and looks on the brink of a shot on Usyk. Really, Joyce should have got there first. While Dubois has won four bouts since Joyce stopped him, his opposition has not been at the same level. Joyce has taken out former world title challenger Carlos Takam, gatekeeper to the stars Christian Hammer and former WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker. 

This willingness to fight anyone has endeared Joyce to boxing fans disillusioned with Joshua’s decline and Fury’s caution. The 37-year-old is no orator, the very epitome of doing his talking in the ring. But in an era where we have to listen to multiple social media despatches a week from boxing’s leading lights, it is quite refreshing to experience a fighter who just wants to glove up and punch somebody.

Zhilei Zhang is quite somebody. Last seen giving unbeaten heavyweight contender Filip Hrgovic all he could handle last August, ‘Big Bang’ is six-foot-six of heavyweight heft. The world-ranked Chinese star is the sort of opponent that is both rewarding and conducive for Joyce to look good against. Lacking mobility, Zhang will be there for Joyce’s powerful fists to hit. While the visitor carries power of his own, Joyce possesses one of heavyweight boxing’s best chin. If this turns into a war you would back the ‘Juggernaut’ to emerge victorious.

When he does, he could have his pick of the litter. There is a clear appetite among fans to see him get his shot. At 37, Joyce cannot be kept waiting for it forever. Fury and Usyk have both mentioned his name in the past. With those two unable to agree terms with each other and few other credible opponents out there, there could be a race to face Joyce. Whoever gets their first should tread carefully. This ‘Juggernaut’ is not getting out of anyone’s way easily. 


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