China’s Zhilei Zhang told Briton Joe Joyce “I’m here to end your career” before Saturday’s heavyweight rematch at Wembley’s OVO Arena.
He lost his WBO ‘interim’ belt and mandatory challenger status to fight unified world champion. Oleksandr Usyk.
“For the first fight you gave me the opportunity, but your team made a mistake in choosing me,” Zhang said.
Speaking at Thursday’s news conference, he added: “Your team going for the rematch is a bigger mistake. I’m here to end your career.”
Joyce, who was undefeated in 15 fights with 14 knockouts before his loss at London’s Copper Box Arena, replied: “Let’s see it then. Let’s have it.”
A hungry tiger with shiny belts
Thursday’s news conference took place at The Drum, Wembley, located in Brent Civic Centre – just a few minutes walk from Saturday’s fight venue.
Both men cut serious figures as they took their seats at the top table, with Queensbury promoter Frank Warren describing it as “brilliant rematch against two guys of top quality” with “so much at stake”.
Warren added: “The winner of this fight will be definitely called to fight the WBO champion next year. The loser will have to wait at least 18 months to two years to get a sniff at a voluntary defence.”
However, similar to their first press conference, the mood soon softened with both men exchanging light-hearted and, at times, humorously awkward words.
“I want that title back he took from me last time. It [the belt] looks real shiny over there,” added Joyce, before rubbing his hands together, prompting laughter of the attending press.
Zhang, with the interim belt proudly placed in front, said: “I really enjoyed myself after the first victory. I see Joe today is of course trying to grab the title back.
“I just want to say that I’m the tiger and I’m hungry. And you don’t take food out of the tiger’s mouth.”
Joyce replied: “I want to take it off his plate, not out of his mouth.”
‘I’d be a fool not to target the eye’
Prior to his loss to Zhang, Joyce was targeting blockbuster bouts against Anthony Joshua or world champions Tyson Fury and Usyk.
Warren said his fighter was, perhaps, guilty of complacency in the first fight.
“Maybe [Joyce] he did. We weren’t talking about that fight, we were talking about the world-title fight, and everybody was. That’s the danger of overlooking the immediate task,” added Warren.
After his surprise win over Joyce, Zhang took a two-week holiday in Thailand before returning to the gym.
The 2008 Olympic silver medallist was reportedly in talks to fight WBC champion Fury this summer, but was obligated to fight Joyce again when he activated a rematch clause.
Joyce appeared to struggle against Zhang’s southpaw style from the opening bell of the first fight, but says he has made necessary adjustments in this camp.
“The first fight exposed a lot of mistakes me and my team made in the camp and it’s about correcting those. Not overlooking Zhang, I need to get those things right,” said Joyce.
“A lot of small changes make a big difference. That’s what we’ve done.”
Zhang says he once again plans to target Joyce’s right eye, which was heavily swollen and twice inspected by the ringside doctor before the pair’s last fight was halted.
“There is no question I will aim for the eye in the rematch,” said Zhang. “This is an instinct. In the first fight I had zero idea his eye would end up like that.
“That exposed his weakness. I’ll be a fool if I don’t continue exploring that.”
Analysis – bad day in the office or was Joyce found out?
The news conference was jovial, with neither man a master of trash talk – but there was enough spite between the two teams. Zhang’s trainer Shaun George promised another stoppage. Joyce’s manager, Adam Morallee, was in equally confident mood his man will be victorious.
There is so much riding on this fight on Saturday night, especially for Joyce who knows defeat could spell the end of any serious world title ambitions
He has an opportunity to not only rectify the only blemish on his professional record, but to reaffirm himself as a serious heavyweight contender and get his world title aspirations back on track.
But the ‘Juggernaut’ is up against it. Joyce had no answers to Zhang’s power shots in April. Up until then he had steamrolled all of his opponents.
Was it a bad day at the office? Did we underestimate ‘Big Bang’ Zhang? Has Joyce been found out? We should find out those answers come fight night.
Victory and Joyce can start targeting the likes of Joshua, Fury and Usyk again. A loss would create a long road back to world-title contention.