Boxing: Kiwi Joseph Parker preparing for unfamiliar style against Chinese veteran Zhilei Zhang

Kiwi Joseph Parker is preparing to step into the relative unknown, when he faces dangerous Chinese heavyweight Zhilei Zhang next month.

With a WBO interim championship on the line, the two rivals will essentially battle for a shot at a world title previously held by Parker and currently in possession of Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk.

After his clinical dismantling of American Deontay Wilder in December, Parker has thrust himself back in the heavyweight reckoning and Zhang represents another major step towards a title challenge.

Joseph Parker in action against Deontay Wilder.
Joseph Parker in action against Deontay Wilder. Photo credit: Getty Images

The veteran is also a southpaw, which means he predominantly fights lefthanded, something Parker has faced only once before among his 36 professional bouts. In 2016, he dispatched Jason Bergman in the eighth round at Apia.

"Zhang bringing the southpaw will make it a lot more difficult," he told AM Show. "That's the reason why we had to find proper sparring partners to bring in for proper preparation.

"I think I'm doing everything right, and I'm working on moves to be able to counter what he's going to bring, but I think, with Zhang, he's fought a lot of orthodox fighters, so it's not new to him.

"He's seen all these styles before."

Boxers often try to train against their opponents' styles in training and the Parker camp is no different. At 1.98m, Zhang also stands taller than the Kiwi (1.93m).

"When you're fighting taller fighters, you have to bring in the right sparring partners," he told AM. We've flown in guys from America, guys from Croatia, guys from all around the world to give us what Zhang looks like."

Parker, 30, has met his opponent before, 10 years ago, when they were both amateurs, with Zhang, 40, winning a points decision.

"I'm not sure if Zhang remembers," he said. "He got the win on points, so I want to go in there and show him what I can really do as a professional."

Zhang sprang to prominence last year with two devastating knockouts against Brit Joe Joyce, who had inflicted Parker's first knockout loss in 2022. On paper, those results seem to favour the Chinese.

"When I fought Joe Joyce - not an excuse - but I was very sick and I shouldn't have fought him," admitted Parker. "I was probably 30-40 percent of what I could do. 

"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my whole career, I'm improving and getting better, I'm just getting started again."

Zhilei Zhang celebrates victory over Joe Joyce.
Zhilei Zhang celebrates victory over Joe Joyce. Photo credit: Getty Images

Zhang has already predicted a knockout win and Parker is showing utmost respect to his adversary.

"Zhilei Zhang is a tough opponent and I know it's a big challenge," he said. "One thing he possesses is power and he can knock anyone out, but youth will be on my side.

"To knock me out, first he has to catch me, but I feel I will be too young and too quick... and also stamina. I think that will come into play as well."

The fight is scheduled for March 9 (NZ time) on a Riyadh card that also features Anthony Joshua and former UFC mixed martial arts champion Francis Ngannou.