WBO Interim Heavyweight Champion Zhilei Zhang presser in New York City

Zhilei Zhang, the WBO Interim Heavyweight Champion, met with Chinese media representatives in New York City to discuss his upcoming title defense against former champion Joe Joyce. Zhang brought his WBO championship belt to Wednesday’s event, which was held at Peter Song’s Kung Fu Kitchen in Times Square. The belt was the second biggest guest of the event, behind only the Chinese giant himself!  Zhang vs. Joyce, a rematch, is scheduled for September 23rd in Joyce’s hometown of London at the Wembley Arena. The fight will be a Queensberry Promotions event, with ESPN+ broadcasting live in the US, Douyin in China and TNT Sports in the UK.

Zhang seized the WBO interim title in April by stopping the previously unbeaten Joyce in round six. Zhang hopes to move on to challenge for the full WBO world championship, currently held by Oleksandr Usyk, but first he must deal with Joyce again because the former interim champion exercised his contractual right to a rematch. At the press conference, Zhang did not seem disturbed by having to grant Joyce a rematch. “I already created history on April 15th in London,” the 6’6” southpaw said. “I don’t mind doing it again on September 23rd.”

At Zhang’s side was his trainer, former light heavyweight and cruiserweight Shaun George, who added, “training camp is going great. We are not moving too fast and not moving too slow. But on September 23rd, Zhilei is going to be a savage. It doesn’t matter what Joe Joyce comes to the rematch with, we are going to be prepared to adjust to him.”

Zhang gave a brief update on his training camp, saying, “People say Joyce is so active and hits hard, but when it comes to sparring, I am working with Alonzo Neal, who throws more punches than Joyce, Dmytro Bezus who hits harder than Joyce, and Mariusz Wach, who at 300 pounds is bigger than Joyce.” Neal is a 2023 National Golden Gloves finalist, Bezus is 10-1 as a professional and Wach is a well-respected veteran who has fought former champion Wladimir Klitschko plus contenders Jarrell Miller, Alexander Povetkin, Martin Bakole, Dillian Whyte and Hughie Fury.

Zhang was also asked about last weekend’s three-belt heavyweight title fight that saw Oleksandr Usyk retain his titles against another British fighter, Daniel Dubois. The win came with some controversy, with Dubois claiming he deserved a knockout victory due to a borderline punch that floored Usyk but was ruled to be a low blow by the referee, a call that gave Usyk time to recover and eventually stop Dubois.   Zhang was more sympathetic to Usyk then Dubois, commenting that, “I watched the fight and that punch was a little bit low. It landed below Usyk’s navel.”