Why Joseph Parker agreed to face the heavyweight division’s latest boogeyman not once, but twice

Why Joseph Parker agreed to face the heavyweight division’s latest boogeyman not once, but twice

By Alipate Narawa
Wednesday 06/03/2024
Source: Stuff.co

Joseph Parker has copped plenty of flak over the years, some of it valid, a good chunk unfair, but one thing even the most ardent of keyboard warriors could never accuse him of is ducking a challenge.

In 12 years as a professional, Parker (34-3, 23 KOs) has fought three former world champions in Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr, along with a string of top contenders in Dillian Whyte, Joe Joyce and Derek Chisora.

And his next assignment, a high-stakes showdown with the widely avoided Zhilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia this Saturday continues that admirable trend.

A 1.98m Chinese giant who fights out of a southpaw stance and carries thunderous power in both fists, not many heavyweights are queuing up to face Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs), the division’s latest boogeyman.

Particularly after the 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medallist demanded a one-way rematch clause whereby only he would be guaranteed a sequel in the event of defeat.

Even with that unfavourable proviso attached, Parker and his team signed on the dotted line, so confident are they that he will continue his recent resurgence which culminated in that masterful display against Wilder little over two months ago.

The 32-year-old says they were in talks with other opponents, but when you finish a fight with Wilder, there are other opponents they can offer you but it’s taking a step back.

He says at the end of the day, in the boxing business you want to be moving forward and challenging yourself.

Parker says his team of trainer Andy Lee, nutritionist George Lockhart and manager David Higgins – they never shy away from challenges, and the most challenging fight out there and the best option for them if they want to get closer to a world title, they have to go through Zhang.

That is indeed the case if Parker has designs on winning back the WBO strap he relinquished when he fought Joshua in a unification bout before 80,000 people in Cardiff back in 2018.

Zhang picked up that organisation’s interim belt last year when he pummelled Britain’s Joe Joyce not once but twice to become the mandatory challenger to WBO titleholder Oleksandr Usyk.

With Usyk slated to meet Parker’s good mate Tyson Fury in an historic undisputed clash in May, that leaves the rest of the heavyweight pack jockeying for position for an eventual shot at the winner.

Parker is ranked second by the WBO and third with the WBC and WBA, Parker is in prime position to do that, provided he can overcome Zhang in back-to-back bouts (their rematch would likely take place in October, when the ‘Riyadh Season’ of entertainment events resumes).

It is a tall order, and Parker will enter the ring for the second fight running as a betting underdog given Zhang’s recent form and amateur pedigree.

“I just want to prove to myself that I still belong at the top, and there’s only one way to prove it – go out there and show it.”

Parker knows he cannot afford any lapses in concentration if he is to avoid Zhang’s powerful punches and thus the same fate as Joyce.

This will be Parker’s third successive fight in Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Kingdom that has become a major player in the global sporting sphere.

Of course, money talks in the prizefighting business and Parker admits the bumper paydays on offer at this stage of his career (he earned a reported $10 million against Wilder have been part of his calculus when weighing up his opportunities.

As a father of four young girls (with a fifth child on the way), he is determined to leave this most unforgiving of sports with enough dollars in the bank to set his family up for life.

Parker adds he needs to think of their futures and looking after them.

Parker will fight Zhang this Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Source: Stuff.co

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