Joseph Parker Reveals Game Plan For Zhilei Zhang: ‘Stick, move, let my hands go’

February 26, 2024
2 months
Joseph Parker

Joseph Parker has spoken about his strategy to defeat Zhilei Zhang in their upcoming heavyweight fight in Saudi Arabia, revealing he will rely on his superior movement.

Former WBO heavyweight world champion Parker takes on WBO interim title holder Zhang on March 8 in Riyadh. Their fight will be the co-main event to Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight showdown with Francis Ngannou.

Both Parker and Zhang enter the bout following impressive 2023s. New Zealand’s Parker (34-3-0 23 KO) fought four times last year and won every bout, including a 12-round domination of former WBC world champion Deontay Wilder in December – also in Riyadh.

China’s Zhang, meanwhile, twice defeated Joe Joyce by knockout last year, thus earning him the WBO interim belt and putting him in the frame for a future world title shot.

There is plenty of intrigue surrounding this fight, not least because of a clash of styles. While Zhang is a stereotypical big man with plenty of power but lacking in speed and endurance, Parker possesses good speed and athleticism but does not carry the same concussive power as Zhang.

So, it should be no surprise that Parker will be leaning into his strengths in a bid to exploit Zhang’s weaknesses and emerge victorious.

“Going into this fight, I have a lot better movement than Joe Joyce. I think with Zhang, it’s important to stick and move,” Parker, 32, said to talkSPORT. “With Zhang, he does tire in a lot of his fights. I’m not counting him tiring. I want the best Zhang and I want him for 12 rounds. I want to give him my best in this fight. So, stick and move and combinations and letting my hands go.”

For what it’s worth, Zhang revealed recently that he is making a focused effort to improve his endurance should he be required to go the distance against Parker. Only once has the 40-year-old gone the full 12 rounds – in his solitary defeat to Filip Hrgovic in August 2022.

Parker Happy With Rematch Clause

There is also the added context of Joyce to consider for this fight. Both Parker and Zhang have fought the British heavyweight and emerged with opposing results. Zhang’s duel stoppage wins over ‘The Juggernaut’ essentially put him on the map and vastly enhanced his credibility as a title contender. Those victories saw Zhang win and then retain the WBO interim title after Joyce had claimed the vacant belt with an 11th-round knockout win over Parker in September 2022.

As Zhang experienced as the challenger against Joyce, Parker is also tied to a rematch should he win, but the New Zealander has no problem with that, conceding it’s simply the business of boxing.

“Yeah, fight Zhang and win, and then fight him again at the end of the year,” said Parker, who held the WBO world title for 15 months before losing to Joshua in March 2018. “Then win again, and I’ll be free to fight anyone else. I guess I see where they’re coming from.

“They’re trying to protect what Zhang has and they did the same thing when Zhang fought Joe Joyce. So I have to beat him twice in order to move on and fight for the championship of the world. I just want to get in there for the hardest fights and do the best that I can.

“There’s a lot of people in boxing with egos and they worry about A-side and B-side and who is going to walk first and who is going to walk second.

“It was ‘take the fight with the rematch clause’, otherwise they would give it to someone else,” he added. “It’s kind of like a cornered buck. I’m happy with the fight and I’m looking forward to it.”

Parker Benefits From Fury Delays

Parker also revealed that he has benefited from Tyson Fury’s postponed bout with Oleksandr Usyk by taking some of Fury’s sparring partners into his own camp. Initially scheduled to fight WBO, WBA, and IBF title holder Usyk on February 17, Fury was forced to postpone the fight to May 18 after suffering a cut above the eye in training. The fighter who caused the cut, Agron Smakici, has now joined Parker’s setup.

“We spoke to Spencer Brown [Fury’s manager] and we spoke to Tyson and they said these guys gave them the best work – Moses Itauma and Agron,” Parker said. “And even though Agron gave Tyson the cut before the fight, he was still giving him good work.

“So we thought we’re gonna keep them out here, bring them in and carry on the good work that they’ve been giving Tyson and instead give it to me. “Since we’ve been out here, they’ve been giving us this work.”