Zhilei Zhang is targeting a world title bout with heavyweight champion Tyson Fury after the Chinese fighter delivered a devastating knockout victory in his rematch with Joe Joyce on Saturday night.
Zhang claimed a 10th-round TKO win over Joyce in their first fight in April, but the 40-year-old southpaw was even more clinical the second time around and ended a contest he was already dominating with a brutal one-two combo.
The second, fight-ending, shot was a perfectly-timed right hand that sent Joyce to the canvas for the first time in his career. While the British boxer managed to stagger to his feet, referee Steve Gray waved off the fight to hand Zhang an impressive statement victory.
“I’m happy, I’m happy. Like I said before the fight, it’s going to end sooner than the first fight. I did it," Zhang said inside the ring at Wembley Arena in London.
“Joe, I like him, I respect him. I let everyone witness Chinese power again. This is what we’re here for, we’re professional fighters. We came here to entertain the crowd, we’re performers."
Zhang, who extended his professional record to 26 wins (21 KOs) against one defeat and one draw, then gave clear insight into what his top priority would be next.
Turning to the crowd, he said: “I want to ask the audience a question: Do you want to see me shut Tyson Fury up?”
Fury, the undefeated WBC champion, returns to the ring next month in a crossover bout with former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia.
Still, a fight with Zhang, holder of the WBO's interim heavyweight title, holds plenty of appeal, particularly after impressive successive wins over Joyce, who had been talked about as a potential world champion contender.
Joyce, a late-comer to the professional ranks having won Olympic silver at the age of 32 in 2016, was making excellent progress toward the top end of the heavyweight division. He claimed statement wins over former world champion Bermane Stiverne, and the likes of Daniel Dubois, Carlos Takam, and Joseph Parker.
However, back-to-back stoppage defeats to Zhang have derailed his world title hopes, although the Londoner insisted he has no plans to hang up his gloves yet.
"I've taken losses in the amateurs. I prefer to win obviously but I feel OK," Joyce, 38, said.
"I still feel fresh and that I can do some more sparring and rounds. I'm feeling OK. I'll just have to lick my wounds and come back stronger."
Benn makes return in Florida
Another boxer fighting to salvage his career made a return to the ring on Saturday night in Orlando, Florida, where Conor Benn claimed a unanimous points decision win over Rodolfo Orozco.
Benn hadn't fought since April 2022 after failing two voluntary drug tests, and the Englishman had been embroiled in a legal saga in an attempt to prove his innocence. After being provisionally suspended by UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) in March, the National Anti-Doping Panel lifted the ban in July following a hearing.
Ukad and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) appealed the panel's ruling, and as such, Benn does not hold a boxing licence to fight in the UK.
Making his return after 525 days, Benn eased to a 99-91, 99-91, 96-94 points victory against Orozco.
"I needed the rounds. I've been through hell and back," Benn said in the ring after the bout. "Britain's my home, it's only right I fight back there sooner rather than later."