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Joe Joyce admits taking on Zhilei Zhang was a 'risk too far' as he opens up on 'heartbreaking' back-to-back losses to the Chinese star… but insists he has NO plans to retire as he looks to bounce back against Kash Ali

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Joe Joyce has opened up on his two ‘heartbreaking’ defeats by Zhilei Zhang that curtailed his hopes of a world title shot – admitting the challenge was ‘a risk too far’.

Joyce retired from their first bout in April 2023 following sustained damage to his right eye, with a doctor calling it off in round six, but in the rematch later in September the fight was ended even faster in the third round after a right hooked dropped him to the canvas – which saw him lose his WBO interim title.

They were the two first defeats of Joyce’s professional career and now ‘The Juggernaut’ is looking to bounce back against Kash Ali in Birmingham on Saturday night – desperate to rediscover his winning form after conceding he is still haunted by his painful losses.

‘It wasn’t my most memorable time,’ he told Mail Sport. ‘The first fight I felt I could’ve won that if I made a few changes. In the second fight, I did everything in my power to get the win but then I got knocked out even sooner! I tried my best and maybe I could have won but Zhang is very tough and accurate, strong – he can hit hard. 

‘Styles make fights and Zhang wasn’t the best for me. It was a risk taking the fight, it was the biggest out there. It was a risk too far for me to take. It’s just something I had to do. It was just unfortunate I didn’t get the win both times. I thought I would cruise through to a victory the first time. I tried but it wasn’t to be.

Joe Joyce has opened up on his 'heartbreaking' back-to-back defeats to Zhilei Zhang

Joe Joyce has opened up on his ‘heartbreaking’ back-to-back defeats to Zhilei Zhang

Joyce's first fight with the Chinese star was waved off due to eye damage - before his rival stopped him in the third round of their rematch

Joyce’s first fight with the Chinese star was waved off due to eye damage – before his rival stopped him in the third round of their rematch

Joyce lost his WBO interim title to Zhang, who went on to lose to old opponent Joseph Parker

Joyce lost his WBO interim title to Zhang, who went on to lose to old opponent Joseph Parker 

‘It was tough and it has been tough. It’s not easy, especially when you get bigged up and then you don’t deliver. It’s heartbreaking.’

Joyce faced a chorus of voices calling on him to retire after losing out to Zhang – who has since gone on to lose to a man he stopped in 2022 – Joseph Parker.

But even though Joyce is approaching the latter end of his boxing career aged 38, he hit back at suggestions he could hang up the gloves and insisted there were still plenty of big fights he could be involved in – and is hopeful of becoming a world champion before he calls it a day.

‘There’s plenty of other fights out there that are very exciting that I can get involved with,’ he added. ‘It’s not time to hang up the gloves just yet. It’s not the end for me, there’s still more fights, more entertaining fights. 

Joyce has admitted it was a 'risk too far' to face Zhang and that his style was wrong for him

Joyce has admitted it was a ‘risk too far’ to face Zhang and that his style was wrong for him

‘The heavyweight game is strong, there’s a lot of match-ups people want to see. Hopefully after Fury v Usyk the belts will be up for grabs again and I can push on and win a world title before I retire. 

‘It’s like – would you quit your job? You still need to earn money. Boxing is a good job for me and I enjoy what I do. It’s not always easy getting up for training year in year out, but it’s exciting the way you pick yourself up. 

‘You get to the top of the peak, then have a rest and pick yourself up again. I’m excited now, I’ve got another big fight against Ali and then after that people want to see me against these other fighters.’ 

Joyce has never fought in Birmingham before and it will be a fresh chapter and a new beginning for the 2016 Olympic silver medalist. A chance to start clean with the weight off his shoulders. That’s something he relishes. 

The 38-year-old is desperate to get back to winning ways

He fights Kash Ali on Saturday

The 38-year-old is desperate to get back to winning ways when he fights Kash Ali on Saturday

Joyce hit back at claims he could retire and vowed to finish his career with a world title

Joyce hit back at claims he could retire and vowed to finish his career with a world title 

‘I’m enjoying myself, It’s good to have a target again,’ he said. ‘I’m looking forward to getting back in the ring and getting a nice win. I’d like to make a statement. I’ve shared a ring with Kash Ali, he’s a good fighter, I’m not underestimating him.’

Joyce said he was tinkering with his style and making constant improvements in the wake of his two defeats, and while he mentioned being keen to join the Saudi boxing revolution and be involved in a huge card in the Middle East, he refused to name the likes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk as possible opponents. 

‘There’s always improvements to make, that’s what I love about boxing. You’re always looking to get better. There’s so many factors in boxing. It’s not just about being really fast or really strong, it’s a combination of all the things plus technique and how the different styles mesh. It’s an exciting time because there’s these Saudi fights, so many different characters with different styles.  

‘We’ll have to wait and see [on who he’ll face in the future]. I want to fight all the top names, big fights. Get a world title in there before I retire. I need to secure myself for my post boxing career. I need to support myself and my family before I hang up the gloves. This is a unique time when I can do that.’