Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Sports / China

Zhang to prove he's the main event

'Big Bang' ready to put Parker 'to sleep' and set up world-title shot

By SUN XIAOCHEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-03-08 09:07
Share - WeChat
Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei (right) lands a right hook on Joe Joyce during his knockout win over the Briton in their rematch at Wembley Arena in London on Sept 23, 2023. DAZN BOXING

Watch out! The "Big Bang" is about to wreak havoc in the heavyweight division.

Fresh off two convincing wins over Joe Joyce, China's heavyweight titan Zhang Zhilei will bid to earn a world-title shot by knocking out former champ Joseph Parker in his interim belt defense on Friday in Saudi Arabia.

After proving his world-class precision and finesse with two straight KOs of Joyce last year, the 40-year-old Zhang has vowed to power his way to supremacy in the stacked division, treating the bout against Parker as a steppingstone to a shot at the titles currently held by Britain's Tyson Fury (WBC) and Oleksandr Usyk (WBO, WBA and IBF) of Ukraine.

Promoted on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou fight, Zhang, who goes by the ring moniker "Big Bang", insists that his clash against former WBO titlist Parker is worthy of top billing in Riyadh.

"My fight should be the main event and I will win it for sure," Zhang said of his interim title defense against Parker at the Kingdom Arena on Friday.

It is difficult to argue with him.

As a former cross-promotion world heavyweight champion, Joshua is squaring off against Ngannou, an ex-UFC mixed martial arts champion, in what's been billed as a captivating crossover showdown. However, Zhang considers it nothing more than a glorified exhibition.

"From my perspective, that's a 10-round exhibition," said Zhang. "People are going to tune in to watch that fight, because it's boxing versus MMA ... But if you really look at it from a boxing perspective, you know what the main event will be."

At 40, Zhang is the eldest of all the top heavyweights, but the 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medalist's world-beating power, composure and tactical acumen mean he is arguably a more dangerous contender than a straight-up heavy puncher in his prime.

Zhang's back-to-back stoppage wins over Joyce, secured by a TKO in their first encounter in April 2023 and a KO in their rematch five months later, have bolstered his confidence going into the fight against Parker — and potentially a challenge to the winner of the unification bout between Fury and Usyk on May 18, also in Saudi Arabia.

"Parker's last fight was impressive. He dominated his opponent and he's had momentum," Zhang said of the New Zealander's unanimous decision win over another former champ Deontay Wilder in December.

"I've studied him thoroughly though. I've been constantly thinking about his strengths and weakness while I eat, walk and train. People might have high expectations of him but he poses no threat to me at all," said Zhang, who The Ring magazine rates as the No 3 heavyweight.

"We are both strong fighters coming off a big year. Whoever wins on Friday, I think, deserves a shot at the title.

"My goal has always been to become a world champion in professional boxing and it hasn't changed."

Born in Zhoukou, Central China's Henan province, Zhang picked up gloves for full-time boxing training in 1998 and spent the next 10 years climbing the amateur ranks until doing his country proud by claiming a silver medal in +91kg class at Beijing 2008.

He signed up with American promotion Dynasty Boxing in 2014 to go pro and has since enjoyed rarely seen heavyweight success in China's boxing scene, where resources to develop heavier punchers — such as competent sparring partners — are scarce.

"I've spent another 10 years sharpening my sword and tomorrow I will wield it to kill," Zhang said in a pre-fight interview on Thursday in Riyadh.

"I went to hell during my pre-fight training camp. Now the gate of hell is open and I will burn him (Parker) to smoke and ashes with the raging fire of hell."

A 6-foot-6 (2.01-meter) southpaw, who weighs around 280 pounds (127 kilograms), this man-mountain usually prevails by asserting his dominance in the early rounds with a combination of power, accuracy and range.

However, the agility of the 32-year-old Parker may come into play as the fight progresses. Boasting impressive footwork and ring craft, Parker hopes to wear down Zhang, capitalizing on his opponent's potential fatigue in the later rounds.

The result could hinge on whether Zhang can keep punching hard if he starts to run out of gas, or whether Parker can avoid Zhang's precision power shots early in the fight and even perhaps later.

"Zhang did an excellent job beating Joe Joyce twice. When I fought Joyce it was totally different from the fight I have now," said Parker, who was knocked out by Joyce in the 11th round of a WBO interim title bout in September 2022.

"Physically and mentally, I am up for the challenge. He is the favorite going into this fight. They said I am the underdog but I will show you what I can do. I am gonna go out there and bang him," said Parker, who has won his last four fights since losing to Joyce.

Responding to a journalist who suggested Parker could work him out and finish him when he's tired, Zhang shrugged off the doubts over his endurance.

"That is just an 'if'. There is no 'what if' in a boxing ring. Everything has to be settled inside the ring by what actually happens. I will let my fists prove them wrong," said the Chinese veteran, who has won 26 fights (21 KOs) with one loss and one draw.

"Everyone talked about how they are gonna finish me off before a fight. Eventually it was me that put them to sleep every time. This time will be no exception."



Most Popular


What's Hot
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349