ZHILEI ZHANG vs. Joe Joyce is an interesting fight. I rewatched the highlights of the first fight last week and Joyce got hurt early. I think it was the first round he got clipped with some big shots and he was shaken up. I don’t know if might have had a small concussion or something like that.

For as ponderous and the way he looks he clearly has boxing skill because you don’t win what he has and not be a good boxer. He’s better than he looks. From my experience some people look good, look flashy and you get in the ring with them they’re not great. Some people don’t look spectacular, and you get in the ring with them, and you can’t hit them. There are subtleties to the sport that you can’t really see unless you’re in there.

The questions for me are was he hurt that badly in the first round in the first fight that he couldn’t react to that left hand coming every time. His brain was scrambled to try and put up some sort of defence and he never recovered. He stayed on his feet because he is that tough, didn’t get dropped he just got beat up that badly that the eye couldn’t sustain the punishment anymore. It was a good stoppage, too. Did he truly believe the hype where he believed he couldn’t be hurt. There’s a possibility he did. He was talking as if he didn’t care if he got hit.

Zhang is a big guy, he’s good boxer for the size of him. The way he boxes from the southpaw stance and throws that left hand is really good. He doesn’t look the part, but his technique is good and throws that left hand fast over the top. It’s going to do some damage even if he swung and closed his eyes because of his size. And your bones can only stand up to so much. Joyce’s chin stood up to it, but his facial structure and skin didn’t.

If he doesn’t get hit too much early on in the rematch and can take the fight into the later rounds where Zhang’s stamina has been poor in the past, he has a chance. The last few rounds of his fight with Hrgovic were dreadful to watch, he was all over the place so that would be Joyce’s opportunity then to step up his work rate. He’s very fit, throws a hell of a lot of punches for a heavyweight but he needs to be clever and avoid that left hand, but I think the most likely result is the same as last time. It all hinges on avoiding that left hand a lot more. I can’t see how he’ll have improved that much defensively. I think he will keep getting with that left hand again. Maybe he doesn’t get stopped as quickly or at all but Zhang could be so far up on points going into the later rounds, Joyce then wins those but it isn’t enough to close the deficit and Zhang will win again.

Zhilei Zhang lands his left hand on Joe Joyce at the Copper Box Arena on April 15, 2023 in London, England

Zhang landed many left hands against Joyce (James Chance/Getty Images)

I got round to watching the Ricky Hatton documentary and enjoyed it. I thought it was interesting. I obviously knew a fair bit about Ricky’s life anyway. A lot of it is out in the public sphere and if you follow boxing, you know a bit about it anyway. There wasn’t any major reveals but it was still an interesting watch.

I remember watching some of the old fights, particularly the one against Kostya Tszyu fight. I stayed over at one of my friend’s houses and staying up all night, desperate to watch it and jumping around my friend’s living room when he won. I was a big Ricky Hatton fan growing up and stayed up watch the Mayweather fight. Opposite emotions for that one.

I think everyone loved Ricky Hatton. He was someone I looked up to and aspired to be like. Early on in my pro career, I was never as good as Ricky Hatton, people made some comparisons between us because we both won the light-welterweight ABAs before we turned pro and at the time, I had a bit of an aggressive style but obviously I never reached anywhere near his heights. I always followed Ricky Hatton and was a big fan of his.

I can recall defending my English title at Walsall Town Hall against a lad called Anthony Upton who Ricky was training. He was unbeaten at the time. Me and him were the headline fight. They thought he would beat me, but I won the fight. I put him over a couple of times, I won the fight on points quite clearly. He was a good kid, but it was a bit early for him in his career. I was more experienced, older, had too much for him but he gave me a good fight. It was really bizarre; I remember thinking and looking at Ricky Hatton being across the ring, and we all walked to the middle of the ring to get the referee’s final instructions. It’s like I was against Ricky Hatton but wasn’t, obviously. From watching him to competing against him, not directly, but that was bizarre.

Watching the documentary, I felt for him a bit. I never reached the heights he did but I can understand his feelings. I could certainly relate to it about how he felt when he lost fights. One of the things he said that stuck with me is, “I’m a world champion four times over but in my mind I’m a failure”. I completely understand what he means. From where I’ve come from in terms of my disability and then to be a European champion, most people would say I overachieved. For him to come from a council estate in Manchester and become a four-time world champion and on the verge of being pound-for-pound but in his mind, he feels like a failure. That really resonated with me.

If someone like Ricky Hatton can reach the heights he did but lost to the two greatest fighters of his era he shouldn’t feel disgraced about that or feel like he failed but he did and I think that was a shame.

It felt like his career dipped when he left Billy Graham. They had that connection. For him to go with [Floyd] Mayweather Sr, for whatever reason, was a bizarre choice. It didn’t make much sense at all. Ricky could box and he had skills, but it was a completely different style. You can’t knock Mayweather Sr as a coach, but it didn’t fit. If he’d gone to Freddie Roach perhaps then that would have made a lot more sense but really, he should have just stuck with Billy Graham.

Ricky Hatton spends time with the crowd following his decision victory against Juan Urango on January 20, 2007 at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Conor Benn situation is a bit of a farce. I understand how boxing works. It’s a business, I understand there’s a lot of people that want to see Conor Benn back in the ring because he’s entertaining, he’s a character and a lot of people will follow it because of that.

It would be nice to look at boxing as a sport and with some sort of purity to it. Has that ever been there with boxing? Let’s be honest, it’s not the cleanest sport in the world. They’ve kept it quiet and announced it last minute so it’s going to be kept under the radar and there wouldn’t be too much backlash about it. The sport is so segmented. Everyone speaks about the alphabet bodies, all the titles but then you’ve got the commissions. If you can’t fight in one country or state, you can fight in another. He’s not allowed to fight over here at the moment, so he is taken to another country to fight.

If we look at athletics if someone won a medal at the World Championships and he had failed a test over here, he couldn’t just decide a year later I’ll up sticks and compete in another event somewhere else in the world. If a tennis player failed a test before Wimbledon, he couldn’t then go across to the U.S Open and play. But in boxing if you fail a test in one country you can go to another and compete there. I’m not the Board of Control’s biggest fan but they seem to have done the right thing in my opinion.

The sport we love is a mess and is becoming more and more of a joke with what is happening. Obviously, I speak to people about boxing a lot and a some of them say I don’t follow it anymore. They’ve turned off. More people know more about a KSI fight these days. The excuse is they’re bringing more eyes to the sport but they’re not. They’ll watch that one fight but they’re not going to go to a small hall show or watch a British title fight. One of boxing’s biggest problems is bullshit. It’s frustrating.

Conor Benn (Ian Walton Matchroom Boxing)