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Zhang Has Only Parker On His Mind As Heavyweight Clash Nears

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Heavyweight contender Zhilei Zhang has said he is focused on just one man ahead of his return to the ring.

Zhang meets experienced New Zealander Joseph Parker in Saudi Arabia on March 8, and he is not looking beyond the former WBO champion.

Zhang told Seconds Out that while his training team, including Shaun George, is putting in the work and watching tape, Zhang is also studying Parker closely.  

“I do on a personal level,” Zhang said, of monitoring Parker. “When I eat, I think about him, when I go to the bathroom I think about him, I made it a habit that he’s always in my mind.”

Parker scored a wide points win over Deontay Wilder in Saudi Arabia on December 23 on the big Day of Reckoning show in one of 2023’s most significant upsets. Many put that victory down to Wilder’s inactivity, but Zhang gave Parker credit.

“It’s not only inactivity, it’s also Parker’s ability to showcase himself in the ring,” added Zhang. “That’s why I really pay attention to what he’s doing.

“I had no idea who I was going to fight [after Zhang beat Joe Joyce last year]. When I first reached out to his [Parker’s] promotional team, I actually got a negative answer, but it turned out Parker was on vacation and he didn’t know what happened. It might have been a miscommunication, but he got on board.”

Zhang has a lesser WBO belt and is also the mandatory challenger for Oleksandr Usyk. But Usyk fights Tyson Fury in May, and there is a rematch clause in that contest, but Zhang refuses to look beyond Parker.

“For me my priority is Joe Parker,” said Zhang. “Without beating Joe Parker, none of this is possible, my only focus is Joseph Parker on March 8.”

The Chinese star also feels it is more likely he fights Usyk than Fury in the future, although he feels a well-prepared Fury has the edge in that May unification fight.

“Tyson has the advantage if he has a good training camp,” continued Zhang.

“The first thing that came to my mind is Tyson Fury has so many variables, you don’t know when he’s going to say something or announce his retirement, you just don’t know, and with this WBO [interim] title it puts me in line to fight Usyk when the time comes.”

At least Zhang’s ranking has made him a more appetising opponent. Beforehand, he was just a dangerman, now there is a reason to fight him so he at least has some leverage.

“I was absolutely high risk before the belt, but now with the high risk comes the rewards,” he admitted.

Then, asked about whether he wanted to do a better job against Parker than Zhang’s former amateur opponent Anthony Joshua did (Joshua outpointed Parker in 2018), Zhang said it did not matter how they did against common foes.

“I can’t really compare myself with Joshua because we fought the same guy, or we’re going to face the same guy, it only happens when me and him slug it out in the ring and we find out who’s better,” he said.

Joshua fights Francis Ngannou on the same bill in Saudi Arabia.

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