Joe Joyce is ready to re-enter the heavyweight fray. 

On March 16th, the former WBO interim heavyweight champion will make his first appearance since Zhilei Zhang ruthlessly stopped him in three rounds last September when he fights Kash Ali in Birmingham. The fight will be part of Queensberry’s latest ‘Magnificent Seven’ show.

“It’s good to start the New Year with a bang. Get back into camp with a goal and a target and a fight date in March against Kash Ali,” Joyce said at Thursdays press conference. “I’m looking forward to it. Get back to winning ways again, get a good fight, get stuck in and a nice victory and there’s plenty of fights on the horizon.

“The heavyweight division is thriving right now, especially with the new opportunities in Saudi Arabia. It’s really exciting times and there are plenty of good fights coming up in the division. I start the year off against Kash Ali and I’ve got a good few fights this year. I think it’s gonna be a good one.”

After appearing to be at the peak of his powers when stopping Joseph Parker in September 2022, Joyce stuttered through the first fight with Zhang last April and a badly damaged eye caused the fight to be stopped but he showed some alarming signs in the rematch. His famous punch resistance seemed to have eroded quickly and dramatically and he looked to be severely lacking in confidence. The violent nature of the third round knockout he suffered led many to call for Joyce’s retirement.

It is easy to form strong opinions in the heat of the moment. The calls for retirement were rooted in genuine concern and, given his style of fighting, those who care for Joyce should now pay even closer attention to the 38 year old’s well-being than they did before but rather than putting the outcome down to Joyce’s sudden frailties, maybe it was mainly down to him meeting a quality fighter who was finally able to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that have been obvious since his debut. Zhang just had his number. Given his history, Joyce deserves a second chance. That is certainly how he sees it.

“Styles make fights and a hard-hitting, durable counter [punching] southpaw who hits very hard and very fast is a bit…” said Joyce, who for his part never once considered retirement. “I thought I’d beat him first time around in the later rounds but the eye stopped that. The second fight, I learned from the first fight and corrected all my mistakes leading up. I did my best in the ring but didn’t get the result obviously. I did three rounds and afterwards I still felt fresh enough to do a couple of rounds of sparring. He got the beating of me and he’s a great fighter. I’m gonna see what he does next. I’ve heard he’s fighting Joseph Parker so I’ll be interested to see how that plays out.

“I’m still here, I’m not retiring and I’ve got plenty of fights left to be in. It’s an exciting time. Why retire now? It’d be crazy.”

On one hand, after years of hard work, Joyce can count himself unlucky to have ran into Zhang just before the heavyweight division exploded. If we maintain the positive tone, however, he is also fortunate to be associated with Frank Warren who is in prime position to open the door to the new land of heavyweight opportunity in Saudi Arabia. It took Warren almost four years of cajoling and manoeuvring to guide Joyce towards the top of the heavyweight division but the rebuild shouldn’t take anywhere near as long.

In the past, Joyce would have found himself at the back of a long queue but the current heavyweight climate means that every fighter is only one win away from a massive opportunity.

Joyce is now an established name and has a reputation for providing all action, entertaining fights. Managers and trainers who might have thought twice before putting their own fighters in the ring with him will also now see glaring vulnerabilities they can exploit. 

If Joyce gets past Ali, it would be no surprise to see him right back in the mix with the division’s other contenders.

“It was the year of the snake last year for Joe. He went from being the most avoided heavyweight to coming off those two losses - which were great wins for Zhang. It’s 2024. How will those defeats affect him? Can he come back? Can he get back to the higher echelons of the heavyweight division? We will see. if he does then there are some brilliant fights there to be had,” Warren said.

“Joe had that great win over Joseph Parker in a great fight. He did it in style and look where Parker is now. He’s come back and is fighting the guy who beat Joe. It’s interesting times and the heavyweight division, anything can happen. You’ve got these big guys in there letting bombs go and you can get clashes of styles but in some ways it’s like a merry go round and Joe, easily, within a couple of fights can establish himself. There are great fights to be made if he wants to go down that road.”