If things go as planned for Zach Parker on Friday night, he will be a very interested observer when Saul “Canelo” Alvarez faces Billy Joe Saunders in Texas in May. Parker would be the first to admit that he has a low profile, but as the WBO’s No 1 contender, he could be in line to face the Canelo-Saunders winner.
Parker, 26, faces Vaughn Alexander at the Copper Box in East London on Friday night. It is the first time that Parker, from Derbyshire, has headlined a televised card.
It is more than a year since he has stepped in the ring, but having signed with Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions, things are looking up. Parker has worked his way from small halls to undercards to the top of the bill. It could be a short step to testing himself against the best in the world.
“I’ve come from the bottom up,” Parker said. I’ve come up from small halls with just my manager and my trainers. I had a little break with the Sauerlands and now to be with Frank is amazing – I grew up watching all his shows when I was younger and now I am headlining one. Hopefully, it goes on like this.
“It has been over a year, so I am buzzing, not only to get back in the ring but to be headlining a show.”
Parker has held the No 1 spot in the WBO’s super-middleweight rankings since November. Saunders has not made a mandatory defence of the title since winning it in the summer of 2019. Indeed, the last WBO mandatory defence in the division was when the previous champion, Gilberto Ramirez, beat Jesse Hart in 2018.
No one will tell you that Canelo v Parker is the fight that the world has been waiting for, but with the Mexican pound-for-pound star seemingly keen to remain busy, Parker could find his name in the equation.
That might come to a shock to the many boxing fans who have never heard of Parker, while Yanvi Yildirim’s performance against Canelo last month will not have done much for the claims of mandatory challengers everywhere.
Parker comes from a boxing family and his father, Darren, was a professional who shared a ring with Chris Eubank.
“All my family boxed,” Parker said. “I did OK as an amateur, but GB never picked me. They always seemed to pick boxers from Liverpool or London. I won four national titles, I boxed for Englsnd once, but when I turned pro I knew I was doing it for myself. I have really kicked up a gear since I became a pro.
“Winning the British title was a really big thing. Growing up, my Dad always taught me that it was so important to win the British title.”
The British title win, against Darryll Williams - on the World Boxing Super Series show in Glasgow that featured Josh Taylor against Ryan Martin and Nonito Donaire against Ryan Burnett - was not without controversy, although it proved to be a night that Parker showed his character. He suffered a dislocated shoulder in the second round and boxed one-handed for the remainder of the fight before winning a disputed split decision. The controversy over the decision somewhat took away from the bravery that Parker had shown.
“I was out for seven-months after that, I had to have surgery in my shoulder,” Parker said. “I dislocated my shoulder in the second round and I just had to grit it out, turn southpaw and use the other hand. I had to just try and use my jab for ten rounds and grit it out.
“A lot of boxers would have dipped out straight away, but I showed true heart to keep going. I also showed I have not just got a plan A. There are a lot of different things to my game. Anything can happen in a boxing ring. You just have to adapt.”
The last time he was in the ring, last March in Manchester, he stopped Australian hopeful Rohan Murdock, a win that gave his WBO ranking a boost to put him in line for a world-title shot. Canelo certainly seems to enjoy facing British opponents - Saunders will be the seventh he has faced.
First, though, is Alexander, the 35-year-old older brother of former two-weight world champion Devon. One upon a time, Alexander once a hot prospect himself, but he lost more than a decade of his career after spending 11 years in prison for armed robbery.
“This is going to be a tough fight,” Parker said. “Not a lot of people know him, but he has a tough pedigree and has only lost to top opponents. It should be a good fight. I’m buzzing to show everyone at BT Sport and Frank, my new promoter, what I have got. Hopefully I can keep headlining shows.
“I’ve got to keep focussed. I can’t look too far ahead, because fights like this one, the opponent is looking at it and thinking ‘if I win, I could be in that position as well’. I can’t look ahead to these massive fights.
“I need to build my profile up. I have come under the radar, as a lot of people say, now it is time to show everyone what I am about and let people see who I am. That starts on Friday night. I am expecting a tough fight. I am expecting a good performance and maybe a late stoppage.
“Obviously, I will have an eye on Canelo and Billy Joe when it happens. It’s a hard fight for Billy Joe. He isn’t a big super-middleweight and Canelo has grown into the weight really well. He looked good against Callum Smith and Billy Joe hasn’t looked good in his best at super-middleweight.
“I want to fight to fight Canelo more than Billy Joe. I would want to see how I test against the top, top people in boxing.
“I think I would cause him a lot of problems. I switch-hit, and you can see in other fights he doesn’t like people who move. It was easy against Callum Smith, because he wasn’t moving. I’ve got a lot in my legs, I know I would cause him problems. And trust me, if that fight was made, I would beat him.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.