The astonishing career turnaround of Joseph Parker is perhaps best summed up by the fact he’s beaten the two fighters engaging in the most enticing contest on this weekend’s rich and talent-laden Saudi Arabia bill. And fear not, this isn’t Jack Massey vs Alex Leapai, Hughie Fury vs Faiga Opelu or Junior Fa vs Simon Kean.

This is a rumble between Deontay Wilder and Zhilei Zhang, two heavyweights boasting such colossal power their combined KO percentage is 91, 63 of their cumulative 69 victories came before the final bell, and they pack enough potency in their mitts to put upright men to sleep with a solitary swing. Parker not only survived such danger to emerge victorious on the scorecards, he respectively tamed Wilder and Zhang as recently as December and March.

For anyone who lost interest in the New Zealander after watching him huff and puff his way through 24 rounds with Derek Chisora in 2021 then be knocked doolally by Joe Joyce the following year might find that form line exceptionally hard to believe.

But immense credit to him and his trainer Andy Lee. They showed exactly how to beat Wilder and then Parker retained the discipline and self-belief to rise from two falls to repeat the trick against Zhang. Whether Wilder or Zhang will be able to follow Parker’s blueprints is another matter entirely, however; it’s certainly difficult to envision either outboxing the other for 36 minutes without putting themselves in harm’s way for just long enough to get chinned. 

Moreover, whether either Zhang or Wilder really want it as much as Parker proved he still wants it is up for debate, too. What the ongoing Saudi Arabia revolution has proved is that if you’re a heavyweight who can bang then, win or lose, opportunities will arise. And with Wilder now 38 and Zhang three years his senior, the just-happy-be-here mentality combined with the effects of age and too many blows to the head could produce a truly forgettable encounter that is the antithesis of what so many of us are daring to expect.

Zhang came in at a career high for his March bout with Parker and, though he scored two knockdowns along the way, was blowing hard by the second half and not looking remotely like a heavyweight who could pose a threat to the leaders. Given the stage and the opportunity, it should be a concern that he turned up so ill-equipped to impress. 

Three months prior, Wilder – though in shape – was so far off the pace he was barely recognizable to the destructive and win-at-all-costs fighter he once was. Though we shouldn’t confuse peak Deontay Wilder with a peak Mike Tyson, the Tuscaloosa banger, though prone to missteps and wild hurls, nearly always found his range. In December he looked clumsier and further off the pace than ever before.

However, even if both are as poor as they were in recent outings it follows that each will present the other with opportunities to connect the defining shot of the contest. Though Zhang can be defensively cute he simply doesn’t have the legs to pot-shot his way through 12 rounds and Wilder’s gameplan is unlikely to be punctuated by him winning on the cards. At some point – presuming that they’re not so far gone that a drawn-out maul-fest ensues – surely one of them will land, and land big.

Parker became only the second man to beat Wilder, after Tyson Fury. But it would be untrue to say that the “Bronze Bomber” didn’t encounter problems with anyone else. Luis Ortiz, though stopped twice by Wilder, won plenty of rounds across those two encounters. Even lesser foes like Artur Szpilka and Gerald Washington gave Wilder something to think about. It therefore follows that given Zhang’s southpaw skillset, experience and savviness, he too can frustrate his American opponent for long periods. 

It might also be argued that Zhang is meeting Wilder at a far more opportune time than any of those opponents mentioned above. Though we could spend several paragraphs reeling off examples of the former WBC champion landing his equalizer, it seems pointless at this juncture to go too far back in time because all recent evidence speaks of a fighter – with only one win since November 2019 – in decline. Logic, given that boxers do not improve at his age and the punishment he endured in those brutal Fury encounters, also points to that conclusion. Wilder will be acutely aware of that possibility, too.

Zhang is older, of course. He looked far from his best against Parker but that he managed to score two knockdowns might suggest he’s having an easier job than Wilder when it comes to pulling the trigger. Also, though he lost to Parker, he’s been fighting regularly in recent years in a way that Wilder has not. And even if his stamina remains suspect – though it should be noted he’s come in closer to his best weight for this one – he may only need to put his opponent under pressure in the opening few rounds to get the victory. Don’t forget how poor Wilder was as far back as 2020 when Fury opted to fight aggressively from the opening bell. And at 6ft 6ins and a shade under 283lbs, Zhang is a lump with enough brute strength to physically bully Wilder who, at 214lbs, gives away almost 70lbs in weight.

It would be insane to dismiss Wilder’s chances in this one because it’s effortless to imagine him timing his right hand to perfection and spreading Zhang’s meaty frame all over the canvas. Equally, anyone gambling big money on one particular outcome in a fight like this is also crazy because almost any outcome is feasible. However, when considering Wilder’s apparent dip in form and throwing in Zhang’s all-round ability that is decorated by his whipping left hand and damaging right hook, the tentative call is for the veteran from China to start fast, have success early, and be last man standing whenever it might end.

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Hamzah Sheeraz vs. Austin Williams

Craig Richards vs. Willy Hutchinson

Filip Hrgovic vs. Daniel Dubois

WBA light heavyweight title fight

Dmitrii Bivol vs. Malik Zinad