Joseph Parker Now Sets Sights on Title Shot – and Friend Tyson Fury

For a big man, Joseph Parker is known for being quite light on his feet – if not in the ring then in his brilliantly choreographed COVID-lockdown viral videos. But on Friday, in his interim world heavyweight title match with Zhilei Zhang, the star performer turned out to be Parker’s chin.

On the undercard of the Anthony JoshuaFrancis Ngannou heavyweight battle at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Parker gutted out 12 rounds against Zhang, picking himself up off the canvas from knockdowns in the third and eighth rounds, to win a tight majority decision and enter his name in the sweepstakes for some of the biggest fights in boxing’s biggest division.

Parker (35-3, 23 KOs) has been in with his share of heavy hitters, including Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce, taking some of their best shots to mixed results. Zhang, at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, was as physically imposing as any of them.

“His power is right up there,” Parker said of Zhang in a post-fight interview with IFL TV, taking special note of the knockdown punches. “He landed two clean shots. The first one was a really good shot, caught me by surprise. And the second one was behind the head, but he does have power. And if you let him punch you, and you don’t move your head, you’re gonna feel it – very hard.”

With the win comes a mandatory challenge for the WBO belt currently in the possession of Oleksandr Usyk. Boxing politics being what they are, Parker is by no means a shoo-in to get a crack at the full title. Further complicating matters is Usyk’s two-fight standing contract with Tyson Fury, who bowed out of their scheduled Feb. 17 initial go-round due to a cut suffered in sparring. A lot can happen between now and when (or even if) Usyk and Fury meet a second time, and Parker would do well not to hold his breath.

The most intriguing wrinkle in these circumstances, however, is the Parker-Fury relationship. Parker has called Fury his best friend, saying the pair are “like brothers.” He predicts a Fury win over Usyk, and envisions a very plausible scenario in which his mandatory challenge lands at the feet of his good buddy. Perhaps surprisingly, Parker has no issue with that scenario.

“When Tyson wins the fight with Usyk and I’m in position to fight for the WBO world title, if it’s gonna make a massive change in my life and my family’s lives, we’ll do it,” Parker said. “I reckon he’ll be like, ‘Let’s do it,’ so we can look after both of us for the rest of our lives.”

For Parker, 32, several pieces must still fall into place. He must keep winning, of course, until either Fury or Usyk is again available. But he’ll also have to contend with other suitors – most notably Joshua, whose resurgence brings new heat to a potential showdown with Fury. Depending on how those details shake out – and, more to the point, how long they take to sort – Parker may also be fighting the sands in the hourglass.

He isn’t worried about any of that just now, though. As a roughed-up but relieved Parker took a quick video call with his daughters, it was clear that Friday night was a time for celebration and, no doubt, recovery.

“It’s great to be back,” Parker said. “It’s great to be back, and there’s more to come.”

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