Zhilei Zhang Trained ‘Like Muhammad Ali’ For Joseph Parker Fight

March 5, 2024
4 months
Zhilei Zhang

There aren’t too many similarities between the fighting styles of Zhilei Zhang and Muhammad Ali, but the Chinese heavyweight said he incorporated some of The Greatest’s training techniques into his camp for his fight with Joseph Parker.

Zhang (26-1-1 21 KO) makes the second defense of his WBO interim heavyweight world title against Parker (34-3-0 23 KO) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Friday. Their fight will be the chief support on ‘Knockout Chaos’ – the event headlined by Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight bout with former UFC champion Francis Ngannou.

Much has been made of the clash of styles between Zhang and Parker; the Chinese fighter has the advantage in size and power while his opponent from New Zealand has far better speed and athleticism. It means Zhang is considered the favorite if the fight is decided by knockout in the first half of the fight, but Parker is favored to win by points or late stoppage.

Zhang previously said that he worked on his stamina and endurance to stay competitive in the later rounds, and now he has revealed that he has taken inspiration from Ali – one of the greatest athletes boxing has ever seen.

“For my swimming training, the former professional fighters, like Muhammad Ali, they did underwater training,” Zhang, 40, told CGTN. “It can enhance your cardio and I’ve borrowed that training method as well. Now a lot of boxers are doing this exercise, training in the water, swimming, it’s very good for the cardio.”

One of Ali’s most famous photos was of him, then as young contender Cassius Clay, in fight stance at the bottom of a swimming pool. However, at the time, Ali did not know how to swim and it wasn’t until later in his career that he started incorporating swimming into his training methods.

Zhang’s fight against Parker will be his second time competing in Saudi Arabia. The first, in August 2022, was the only time ‘Big Bang’ has lost in his pro career when he was defeated by Filip Hrgovic on points. It was also the first and only time Zhang has gone the full 12 rounds.

However, Zhang insists he is much better prepared ahead of his showdown with Parker having relocated to Riyadh for the final few weeks of his camp while training at night.

Zhang Primed For Homecoming Fight

“After I came to Saudi Arabia, this is a desert area, the air is dry, it’s hotter: I was thinking about that issue. After I came here, the climate, it’s winter, it’s comfortable and the temperature is not too high, so I drank a lot of water here, replenishing my body with water,” Zhang said.

“I didn’t think too much about jet lag because our fights are at night and then we didn’t try to adjust to the time difference, because we train at night and then we rest during the day.”

There is a rematch clause in the fight if Parker wins, allowing Zhang the opportunity to win back his interim title. However, the clause does not apply if Zhang wins, and should that happen, his promoter Bob Arum has plans for a homecoming fight.

“The plan is to have him fight in Macau,” Arum said to BoxingScene. “A good fight; it’ll be against a top-10 guy.”

Zhang enters the fight after a breakthrough 2023 when he twice knocked out British heavyweight Joe Joyce. Parker has been in similarly good form, winning his past four fights, including a dominant points victory over Deontay Wilder in December. The New Zealander’s last defeat was to Joyce in an 11th-round stoppage in September 2022.