Joseph Parker Rides Momentum Wave, Faces Different Beast in Zhilei Zhang

By Will Arons - 03/05/2024 - Comments

Joseph Parker is keeping his career momentum going by taking on WBO interim heavyweight champion Zhilei Zhang this Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Parker’s trainer Andy Lee says they chose Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs) so soon after the Wilder clash, because they felt that it’s a fight that would have happened anyway. He felt this was the perfect time to face him.

Perhaps the true reasons why Parker took this fight are the Saudis want it, the money is good, and a victory will put him in a better position to challenge for a world title in 2025.

It’s still a dangerous fight for Parker (34-3, 23 KOs) because Zhang isn’t gunshy, and he won’t move around the ring all night like Wilder did last December. Zhang will come to fight, and he’s better power, size and hand speed. He’s a superior technical fighter than Parker, who is still learning.

Unlike Zhang, Parker didn’t have the benefit of a long amateur career or fighting in two Olympics. He’s just someone who has been learning on the job during his career, and his best win up to this point was against 38-year-old Wilder, who looked washed beyond words.

Taking the over-the-hill Wilder out of the equation, Parker’s best career win was against 40-year-old journeyman Dereck Chisora.

“Momentum. We could wait six months, and we’d be in with Zhang anyway,” said trainer Andy Lee to the DAZN Boxing YouTube channel when asked why Joseph Parker decided to fight Zhilei Zhang so soon after Parker’s win over Deontay Wilder last December.

“Joseph is in good form. He has momentum and activity, and we’re here for the biggest challenges. Joe has been a world champion. He’s not undefeated; he has nothing to hide, nothing to fear. He’s going in there for the best fights and the biggest fights,” said Lee.

Andy Lee isn’t saying, but Parker is expected to hit and run all night, and not fight aggressively like he did against Wilder. He can’t. Zhang hits too hard and is fearless. He won’t be afraid to throw punches the way Wilder was, and he’s not going to move endlessly.

Tactical Shift: Adapting to Zhang’s Style

Tactically, this is going to be a bit different from the Wilder fight. Is this going to be about getting a bit more cute, a bit more selective with the shots as opposed to being that dominant on the front foot?” said Darren Barker.

“It’s going to be really hard to be on the front foot against Zhang. I think Zhang is going to watch the [Joe] Joyce fight, and he’s going to pressure Joe and move forward. That’s what we’re prepared for anyway,” said Lee.

“If he goes the other way and he stands back, that’s even better for us. I expect him to bring pressure, and that’s what we’re training for. Joseph will have to box smart, pick his moments, and not be predictable with his punches because Zhang sits in the pocket with his hands high, and as soon as you punch, he’ll punch with you at the same time,” said Lee. “A very, very dangerous fighter, Zhang. So, Joe is going to have to be very clever.”

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