Zhilei Zhang and Joseph Parker will do battle for the interim WBO heavyweight title at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena on Friday, March 8; Zhang claimed and retained the interim crown in wins over Joe Joyce, while Parker vaulted himself back into contention by beating Deontay Wilder last month
Image: Joseph Parker stunned Deontay Wilder in December
Zhilei Zhang and Joseph Parker will fight for the interim WBO title on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s showdown with Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia.
A bout between Zhang and Deontay Wilder had previously been discussed, but the Chinese heavyweight contender will now take on Parker in Riyadh on Friday, March 8.
The New Zealander vaulted himself back into title contention with a dominant unanimous decision win over Wilder at the Kingdom Arena in December.
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Joseph Parker believes that ‘inactivity’ played a big part in his shock win over American heavyweight Deontay Wilder
Former WBO heavyweight champion Parker now faces the interim title-holder Zhang, who is coming off back-to-back stoppage wins over Joe Joyce in April and September last year, and has amassed a 26-1-1 (21) record since turning professional in August 2014.
The first of those victories against British heavyweight Joyce saw Zhang, 40, claim the interim WBO title. The full version is currently held by Oleksandr Usyk, who faces Tyson Fury in a bout for undisputed status in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, February 17.
Parker, meanwhile, fought four times in 2023 and notched up victories in all of those to put an 11th-round KO by Joyce in September 2022 behind him.
The 31-year-old’s record now stands at 34-3 (23) and his promoter, David Higgins, told Sky Sports last month he believes Parker has silenced the critics following that upset win over the hard-punching Wilder.
Image: Zhilei Zhang is the current holder of the WBO interim heavyweight title
“For me, it was the best performance of Joseph’s career,” Higgins said.
“The reason I say that is because those massive, global, pay-per-view fights have a special pressure about them, the eyes of the world are upon you and against his opponent, a murderous puncher, one of the most feared in history, you can’t really describe what that pressure is like until you’ve been in that situation.
“A couple of times he came up short [in his career], but this time he maintained a cool head, was patient, showed intent, stuck to the fight plan, withstood the pressure. He didn’t just win but dominated Wilder.
“His doubters and the people writing him off, he’s certainly shut that crowd up. In New Zealand, the leading newspapers said he is back, and he’s got another run at a world title.”