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Joe Joyce v Zhilei Zhang: Juggernaut's world title dreams blown off track

British heavyweight Joe Joyce saw his world title dreams derailed on Saturday night as he suffered a sixth-round technical knockout defeat to Zhilei Zhang.

The 37-year-old was bullish in the build-up and vowed to continue his unbeaten run before aiming to challenge for a world title before the end of the year.

However, Joyce looked below par from the first bell, and his career is now at a real crossroads as the drama in the heavyweight division continues.

While he did not touch the canvas, the ringside doctor inspected Joyce's swollen right eye on two occasions, and he now has to silence his critics after the referee had little option other than to call a halt to the fight.

Back to the drawing board for Joyce

Unlike some of his heavyweight rivals, Joyce turned professional late, he did not lace up his gloves in the paid ranks until he was 31.

He has wasted no time in moving up the rankings since then, and up until Saturday, he had enjoyed an unbeaten start to life as a professional.

Joyce's supreme power had allowed him to win 14 of his fights by knockout, and only Bryant Jennings managed to last the distance with the "Juggernaut".

The former amateur star was full of confidence ahead of his fight at the Copper Box in London, and why wouldn't he be? After all, Joyce had beaten the likes of Bermane Stiverne, Daniel Dubois, Carlos Tajam, Christian Hammer and Joseph Parker without breaking a sweat.

His performance against Parker was a career-best display and he was expected to cruise past Zhang, who is two years older than the British heavyweight.

Despite his age, Zhang exposed Joyce and showed up all of his weaknesses, and he now faces a huge moment in his career to try and get back on track.

Joyce vows to learn from Saturday's defeat

Even during his winning run as a heavyweight, Joyce had been questioned for his style and approach, but in the end, he could always answer his critics with a victory.

However, he looked a little light on Saturday, and it was Zhang who had the power in every punch, and he practically closed Joyce's right eye after six punishing rounds.

While Joyce did not quit, he was hurt on several occasions and never looked to have any answers for his rival.

Zhang will now dream of a world title shot as the new WBO interim heavyweight champion, but Joyce believes he can quickly get revenge.

He told BT Sport: "I'm just disappointed with my performance; I think the right hand he kept hitting me with, I couldn't get out of the way.

"Respect to Zhilei Zhang, it was a good fight, but I think I could have done better, I think because I haven't fought a southpaw for so long.

"I kept on getting hit, so I was disappointed and I'd like to apologise to all of my fans and supporters. But I also want to thank you for coming down here; I'll be back; my journey's not over. This is just a hurdle I may have tripped over, so I'll be back."

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Zhang's win the latest setback in the heavyweight division

Saturday's victory was the biggest of Zhang's career, but at 39 he may only get one crack at becoming heavyweight champion.

Joyce was the mandatory challenger for unified champion Oleksandr Usyk's WBO title, but he will now need to go back to the drawing board.

A potential rematch with Zhang is on the cards, but the Chinese heavyweight may decide to cash in as quickly as possible by securing a fight with Usyk in the coming months.

In his interviews before facing Zhang, Joyce had spoken with real passion about facing the likes of Usyk, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, but now all of those options are off the table.

Instead, fans of heavyweight boxing will now have to see Joyce take a step back and a potential fight against Dillian Whyte may be an easier option.

Neither Fury nor Usyk will have any interest in fighting someone who has just lost, while Joshua has already confirmed he will not be back in the ring until December.

Joyce will wait for his eye to heal before returning to camp and, at 37, he needs to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible before Father Time catches him up and ruins his world title aspirations altogether.

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