Zhang Ready To Go The Distance Against Parker In Bid For Title Shot

February 10, 2024
5 months
Zhilei Zhang

Heavyweight contender Zhilei Zhang said he will be prepared to go the distance in his upcoming bout against Joseph Parker and believes a win will put him in the frame for a title shot.  

The Chinese fighter (26-1-1 21 KO) is coming off a career-best year in 2023 when he twice defeated Joe Joyce inside the distance. The previously unbeaten Joyce had been expected to continue his journey towards the top of the division – and an imminent title fight – but instead it was Zhang who put his name in the frame for belts.

Zhang’s first win over Joyce earned ‘Big Bang’ the WBO Interim Heavyweight world title, which he then defended in the rematch. He will again put his belt on the line against Parker in the co-main event fight of Anthony Joshua’s clash with Francis Ngannou on March 8 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Parker (34-3-0 23 KO) will represent a vastly different challenge to the slower, bigger Joyce. The New Zealander is one of the fittest fighters in the division and has gone the full 12 rounds with several quality opponents, including Joshua, Dillian Whyte, Andy Ruiz, and Deontay Wilder.

‘Parker’s Plan Is Simple’

Zhang, meanwhile, has only gone the distance once in his career – in his only defeat to Filip Hrgovic in August 2020. Based on their careers so far and their apparent strengths and weaknesses, Zhang’s best hopes of victory will come early in the fight, while Parker will be the favorite to win on points.

With that in mind, Zhang revealed that he is working intensely on his conditioning in an attempt to remain a threat in the later rounds.

“Parker’s plan is pretty simple. He’s going to try and slow me down and make the fight go 12 rounds,” Zhang said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. “That is what we are training for, increasing physical reserve, making sure there is enough in the tank to go the distance.

“In heavyweight boxing, there is a lot of unpredictability, every fighter hits hard, there’s a chance you can be knocked down by a single hit or combo at any time and it can change the outcome of the fight. So, we’re going to maintain a very simple approach.”

Zhang Ready For ‘Amazing’ Parker

After seeing his career derailed by back-to-back defeats to Joshua and Whyte, and then suffer a setback with a loss to Joyce in 2022, Parker has done well to rebuild. The former WBO world champion enters his clash with Zhang on a four-fight winning run, including arguably the best performance of his career, when he dismantled Wilder over 12 rounds in December.

While impressed with Parker’s recent return to form, Zhang was keen to point out that his win over Wilder came after the American had been inactive for 14 months – and that fight only lasted one round. Prior to that, Wilder had not fought since his 11th-round defeat to Tyson Fury in October 2021.

“The fights [Parker] had recently were amazing,” Zhang said. “Against Wilder, he was able to dominate and bring his strong points into play. Wilder didn’t fight for a long time [before he faced Parker]. Actually, in two years he only had one fight and that lasted one round. So when he did fight, he couldn’t find the rhythm.”

Zhang had never really been in the heavyweight conversation until his wins over Joyce propelled him into contention. The 40-year-old insists that is no coincidence as he only started taking his career seriously after his competitive defeat to Hrgovic.

Zhang ‘More Disciplined’ Now Than Ever

“After the loss to Hrgovic and any loss for that matter, I try not to let the result affect me. I take time to summarise but then try to move past it,” he said. “But after that loss, I became more disciplined in my life and started to approach training more scientifically to ensure that the result of my fights, and everything that comes afterwards, is in my hands.”

A win over Parker next month will almost certainly lead to a title shot for Zhang against the holder of the WBO belt. At present that is Oleksandr Usyk, although the picture could be different after the Ukrainian’s undisputed bout with Fury in May.

Usyk, the WBO, IBF, and WBA champion, was scheduled to face WBC holder Fury in Riyadh on February 17 but the fight was postponed until May 18 after Fury sustained a “freak cut” in sparring. How that leaves the title picture is anyone’s guess at present, but Zhang is focused only on Parker.

“When I beat Parker, then we’ll look at the next steps,” Zhang said.