Trainer Andy Lee admits New Zealand heavyweight Joseph Parker is training with a renewed sense of belief ahead of his March 8 contest in Saudi Arabia with Zhilei Zhang.

Parker is coming off possibly a career-best win, widely outpointing Deontay Wilder in December, and as a result the former WBO heavyweight champion is flying high.

Lee has been in Saudi Arabia for several weeks because he was in camp with Tyson Fury when he was cut in sparring ahead of the postponed date for Fury-Oleksandr Usyk, and Lee has been happy with Parker’s work ahead of another tall order.

“Joe’s quite coy, he doesn’t give much away,” Lee said. “He doesn’t give much away, but he’s just full of belief and the training and the way he’s pushing himself in the weights gym, on the treadmill, with the fitness and also the boxing ring, and how he’s doing in sparring. … He’s full of belief.”

Parker is 32, and has won 34 times with three losses. He has been working with Lee for more than a year, and Lee is now watching his fighter riding high.

“Joe’s a very clever fighter, a very experienced fighter,” Lee said. “He’s got the conditioning to go along with that, so he’s right in the mix.

“And he knows he’s right there. There’s no doubts in his mind, and it’s given him the confidence to go into these big fights believing he’s going to win.”

It is in part the partnership between trainer and boxer that has breathed new life into Parker, but it’s also the belief that Parker has earned from carrying out the game plan so strategically and flawlessly against Wilder.

“What he did against Wilder [has improved Parker’s confidence],” Lee said. “But the build-up to it, the thoughts that go through your mind, the doubts that you could lose a fight like that, and then you go and perform that way and you overcome it. … But now we’re going into a fight with a very similar mindset.”

Zhang, 40, is the favorite. If Parker wins, Zhang has a rematch contracted that would have to take place before October. Again, Parker is the underdog. 

“Even though we’ve done that with Wilder, we’re kind of back to square one,” Lee said. “With a guy who’s probably a bigger challenge, more dangerous than Wilder, so we have to be in the same mindset, with the same focus.”

The 6-foot-6 Chinese star is 26-1-1 with 21 stoppages, and has twice halted the man who last defeated Parker – the English heavyweight contender Joe Joyce.

Zhang is a southpaw, and while risky like Wilder, he is an extremely different proposition from the heavy-handed American.

“They couldn’t be more different, in every single way,” Lee said. “They’re completely different. Zhang is big, heavy, a counter-puncher, and he’s quite clever and economical, and he’s very well-schooled. Compared to Wilder, Wilder is the opposite of all those things.”