Lee Warns Concentration Is Key for Parker Against Zhang

Andy Lee admits one misstep and the brilliant renaissance of Joseph Parker could come to an end.

The Irish coach has prepared the New Zealand heavyweight contender to face Chinese star Zhilei Zhang in Saudi Arabia on Friday (March 8), just two-and-a-half months after his upset victory over Deontay Wilder.

Lee said the fight with Zhang is one where Parker will not be able to switch off for a moment.

“Wilder could switch your lights out in any second and it will be the same with this fight,” warned Lee. “That’s the thing Joe has struggled with all throughout the years, from when I first started with him it was the first thing I identified that he would switch off in a fight, he would take breaks, but over the course of the last year and a bit, we’ve been working on that and he’s improved immensely on that part of his boxing.

“The best fighters can concentrate for every second of a round. They don’t take breaks, [Terence] Crawford, or Andre Ward, those guys never took breaks, they were always focused or engaged on what they have to do and that’s the way Joe’s becoming.”

Former WBO heavyweight champion Parker, 32, is again in the underdog role but he has won six of his seven fights with Lee in the corner, the lone loss coming in a brutal Fight of the year contender against Joe Joyce in September 2022.

“It was our third fight together,” Lee explained. “We won against [Derek] Chisora the first time, we only had a few weeks together, second fight he boxed really well against Chisora, and then there was a big, long layoff and we went in against Joyce.

“It wasn’t the fight I would have taken at that stage because we were still developing our relationship and Joe’s style, but then Joe got sick the week before the fight, he was on antibiotics and he was pretty rundown and it affected him in the fight.”

Four consecutive wins were topped off with the emphatic win over Wilder in December, but there won’t be a return to the rebuilding fights, the activity fights, against the likes of Jack Massey, Faiga Opelu and Simon Kean.

Lee wants his man to stay at the highest level.

“You can’t go back,” Lee continued. “Joe didn’t have to take the Wilder fight, we could have sat around and waited to see what happens and see the results but Joe wants a challenge and Joe’s seen the benefits of keeping busy and fighting regularly and I think if we’d not taken the Zhang fight and taken a keep busy fight it wouldn’t have been the same.

“These big fights, there’s a rush, and the preparation and the unknown of going into a situation when you don’t know if you’re going to win or lose but when the risk is high the reward is high, in terms of value, how you feel after the fight or what it means to you after the fight.

“When you beat a guy you’re supposed to beat, you’re happy you won but it’s not as good as one when you’re really in a fight.”

Zhang is a giant southpaw, and this week Parker said he had only faced one southpaw in his career, journeyman Jason Bergman.

If the so-called form guide is anything to go by, Zhang wins on Friday night. He twice bulldozed “The Juggernaut” Joyce, who was the last man to beat Parker, but Lee realizes that is not always the case, and he believes Parker is a different fighter now, too.

“It doesn’t always work like that, it’s the old saying that I hate to say, styles make fights, but Joyce – and I don’t want to be down on Joe Joyce because he does have a victory over Joe Parker – but Joyce was made for Zhang in terms of walking straight into him, slow reactions and not much head movement,” Lee assessed.

“Had the swelling not happened around the eye in the first [Joyce-Zhang] fight, Joyce probably would have caught up with Zhang, and it could have been very tight coming down the stretch. He was just getting into a rhythm but the swelling put a stop to it.

“In the second fight, there was a real insecurity about Joyce and a panic after the first and second round when, towards the end of the second round, Zhang opened up a little bit and there was a panic and Joyce went straight back to type, got away from whatever game plan he had. To me, Zhang is very good, but I think Joyce might have made him look, not better than he is, but it was the perfect fight for Zhang.

“Joe is a different prospect, and I know Joe wasn’t at his best for the Joyce fight, but hopefully he will be at his best for Zhang.”

Should Parker win, he will have to face Zhang again before the end of the year. Any talk of fighting the winner of Friday’s main event, between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou, will have to be put on ice. Parker has also previously ruled out facing his friend, Tyson Fury, who is also locked into two fights with Oleksandr Usyk, with the first one in May.

“We have a rematch clause with Zhang,” said Lee. “If we beat Zhang this time, the rematch clause is for no later than October, so we’re committed to that now, so we will have two fights with Zhang, and who knows where the titles will be at that stage.”