Joe Joyce lost his rematch with Zhilei Zhang to make it back-to-back defeats to the Chinese heavyweight, who will now look to a clash with Tyson Fury.
Zhang shattered Joyce’s unbeaten record with a sixth-round stoppage in April, with the British fighter coming into Saturday’s Wembley Arena bout at his career-heaviest as he sought revenge.
But this performance was even more convincing from Zhang, who ended the fight with a brutal knockout in the third round.
Southpaw Zhang had told the Englishman he was back to end his career and could well have proved true to his words with another chastening defeat for the ‘Juggernaut’, who now faces questions over where he goes from here.
Zhang used his moment of glory to call out Tyson Fury.
He said in his ringside interview: “To the audience, I want to ask you a question: Do you want to see me shut Tyson Fury up?”
On his performance, he added: “I am happy. Like I said before the fight, it is going to end sooner than the first fight and I did it. Joe, hell of a fighter, respect to him. I like him and respect him, everybody please care for him.”
Joyce looked comfortable in the opening stages of the contest in a rather cagey opening, circling away to his left to avoid Zhang’s left hand in a relatively quiet first round.
But Zhang came out with much more intent in the second round, actively closing down the distance between the two fighters to get within range of Joyce.
Zhang, the 2008 Olympic silver medallist, was first to land a telling blow in the second, rocking Joyce with a big left hand before catching the Englishman again with another hook which sent him onto the ropes before the bell.
Joyce tried to shake off the cobwebs at the start of the third, but a double jab saw Zhang wrestle back the momentum before a stunning end to the contest.
Zhang worked Joyce with the left before he delivered the knockout blow with a powerful right hook which sent his 38-year-old opponent to the canvas – and could well end his hopes in the heavyweight division.
Zhang, 40, takes his record to 25 wins, with one defeat and one draw. Joyce left the ring without conducting an interview.
On the undercard, Ilford boxer Anthony Yarde stopped Portugal’s Jorge Silva in the second round to make an impressive return in his first fight since defeat by unified light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev.
Dubliner Pierce O’Leary retained the WBC international super-lightweight title with a unanimous decision over Manchester’s Kane Gardner.
Heavyweight prospect Moses Itauma, 18, produced a blistering first-round knockout of Amine Boucetta for his fifth straight professional win.