IT STARTED with Joe Joyce, mocked up as the Terminator, chasing down Zhilei Zhang with a bionic right eye during his pre-ringwalk video segment. It ended with the 37-year-old, battered and bruised, pulled out with that same eye swollen almost completely shut.

Because while his chin might be constructed from something non-human, we now know that the rest of his face is made from skin and bone like the rest of us. And in the face of ‘Big Bang’ Zhang, and a laser-like straight left hand from his southpaw stance, this remarkable heavyweight from London was made to look human again. The Juggernaut was finally stopped.

He was 15-0 (14) going into this one and his almost cartoon-like ability to withstand punishment and keep walking forward had been lauded. Stoppage wins against the likes of Daniel Dubois, Carlos Takam and most recently Joseph Parker had boosted him right up into the world top three.

He was an overwhelming favourite against Zhang, the man from Zhoukou, China, who is a few weeks away from his 40th birthday. A Joyce victory here at the Copper Box Arena was supposed to pave the way for a fight with either Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury in the summer or a clash with Oleksandr Usyk later in the year. Maybe both.

Instead the Juggernaut will have to trundle to the back of the queue after Zhang produced one of the best performances from an overseas heavyweight in a British ring for some time. He was almost punch perfect in his pursuit and ultimate destruction of Joyce.

He had promised to bring ‘Chinese Power’ and he did exactly that. After a tentative opening 30 seconds he went straight to work on finding a home for his cross. He was landing it upstairs and downstairs and often followed it up with huge right hooks. Joyce, over 15lbs lighter than he was when he stopped Parker in September, looked like he had never fought a southpaw before.

He has, of course, but so effective was Zhang that he made Joyce look bad. In the corner between the first and second rounds his coach Ismael Salas suggested Joyce was ‘still asleep’. He did not wake in the second either with yet more left hands crashing onto that eye and the surrounding area. He looked especially hurt when he shipped a right-hook, left-hand combination but he managed to clear his head after a stumble

“I just couldn’t get away from his straight left,” Joyce said afterwards. “He just kept on nailing me in the eye and it swelled up my eye.”

The third was a decent one for Joyce as he upped the pace and began to land shots of his own with more intent. The trouble was that Zhang had found his range and was adept at countering everything coming his way. Joyce’s eye by now was a beacon for Big Bang.

So too for referee Howard Foster. Joyce was never in real danger of touching down but the eye was by now an ever-worsening mess. It was the sixth when the official first called on the doctor to have a look. Joyce, with his left eye covered, was able to relay how many fingers were being held up but he was clearly in a lot of trouble. Foster allowed it to continue momentarily but soon beckoned the same doctor up again for the second time. After that inspection, Foster said no more. The official time was 1-23 of the sixth.

“That’s what happens when you take risks,” said Joyce. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way which is annoying. I thought I’d reach a victory here and it’s just disappointing I didn’t.”

Joyce, despite his 37 years, will be back.

Zhilei Zhang lands his left hand on Joe Joyce at the Copper Box Arena on April 15, 2023 in London, England (James Chance/Getty Images)

In the chief support, Mikaela Mayer got back to winning ways six months after she suffered her first professional defeat to Alycia Baumgardner across London at the O2 Arena. She outboxed last-minute stand-in Lucy Wildheart en route to a wide unanimous decision.

Judge Guido Cavalleri made her a 100-90 shut-out winner while Mark Lyson scored it 98-92 and Juergen Langos 98-91. Although those wide scores were fair, Essex-based Swede Wildheart ensured every minute of every round was competitive despite only getting the call up to fight on Friday when Christina Linardatou failed her pre-fight medical.

But Mayer, making her debut up at lightweight, used her height and reach advantage to win the exchanges at long range while also enjoying much success with her trademark body shots up close. John Latham was the referee.

Earlier, lightweight Sam Noakes maintained his 100 per cent KO record by surging past Karthik Kumar inside two rounds. The big-puncher from Maidstone dropped the Chennai visitor twice before Latham waved it off after 1-17 of the second.

In an even more chilling destruction job, Wandsworth’s Denzel Bentley saw off Kieran Smith in just 45 seconds of the Greenrigg man’s challenge for his British middleweight title. Bentley sent him staggering back to the ropes with the first meaningful left hook he threw before putting him to sleep with a right hand moments later to win his Lonsdale Belt outright.

There would be no knockout, however, for teenage prodigy Moses Itauma who was taken the six-round distance by tough Ukrainian factory manager Kostiantyn Dovbyshchenko. After seeing off his first two professional opponents inside a minute, Chatham heavyweight Itauma had the opportunity to get some rounds under his belt in the first fight of his life that has gone beyond three rounds. Despite the lack of an early finish, he impressed with his shot selection to both head and body and may look back on this fight as an important one in his development. Referee Lee Every scored it 60-54.

There were also six-round points wins for undefeated welterweights Eithan James and Sonny Liston Ali. James, from Northampton, saw off Sofia’s Georgi Velichkov 60-54 on Every’s card while the same official had Romford’s Liston winning by the same score against Rochdale man Richard Helm.

In the early four-rounders, London’s Seth Gyimah aka Freezy MacBones beat Lancashire journeyman Darryl Sharp 40-36 on Every’s card while Joel Kodua of Dagenham won by the same scoreline against Hyde’s Dale Arrowsmith. Kieran McCann reffed it.

Verdict: A famous night for Zhilei Zhang but Joyce’s career has not yet terminated.