Zhilei Zhang has made history by becoming the first Chinese boxer to hold a world heavyweight title of any kind.
Zhang, who is 39 years old, used his punishing left hand to knock out Joe Joyce and force the ring doctor to stop the scheduled 12-rounder in Round 6 at Copper Box Arena in London.
Zhang’s victory has changed the heavyweight boxing landscape, and he is now a legitimate opponent for anyone in the division.
Zhang’s success against Joyce was down to his devastating left hand. The 6-foot-6, 280-pounder was able to land his straight left from beginning to end, which rattled Joyce several times and began to cause swelling on his eye after only a few rounds.
Zhang landed 78 of 140 power shots (56%), according to CompuBox, and almost all of them were left hands.
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Joyce tried to outwork Zhang from the third round, and he arguably won Rounds 3 through 5. However, he couldn’t avoid Zhang’s left hand, and the ring doctor was summoned to examine his eye between Rounds 5 and 6 then again midway through the final round because it appeared to be almost completely closed.
The doctor then whispered something into the ear of referee Howard Foster, who stopped the fight. The official time of the stoppage was 1:23 of the sixth round.
Joyce, who was previously unbeaten and on the cusp of his first title shot, was dumbfounded during his ring interview. He acknowledged that Zhang hits hard and has an awkward style because he’s a southpaw. Joyce apologized to his fans and supporters, but he promised to be back and continue his journey.
Interestingly, Zhang trained along former UFC champion Alex Pereira recently.
Zhang, who is based in New Jersey, gave a strong performance in a losing cause against contender Filip Hrgovic last August, which earned him a shot at Joyce. On Saturday, he turned in the performance of his life to take Joyce’s WBO “interim” belt.
Zhang’s victory made him the first Chinese heavyweight to hold a world title of any kind, which is a historic achievement. Now he can target Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, the heavyweight titleholders.
Zhang’s determination is admirable, and he believes he has what it takes to go for the title. “I’m 39 years old, but I’m disciplined,” he said. “I train hard. The next step, I’m going for the title.”