Zhilei Zhang’s trainer is certain that his focused heavyweight is taking Joseph Parker much more seriously than Deontay Wilder did December 23.

Shaun George got the sense that Wilder overlooked Parker prior to their 12-round fight last month. Wilder paid a steep price for his surprising, lopsided points loss to Parker at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia because it cost the former WBC champion a much more lucrative pay-per-view fight against Anthony Joshua, which would’ve been scheduled for March 8 had Wilder defeated Parker.

England’s Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs), who stopped Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin (26-2, 14 KOs, 1 NC) after the fifth round of the main event December 23, will instead face Francis Ngannou (0-1) in the 10-round main event March 8 at Kingdom Arena. Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs), a 40-year-old southpaw from China, will defend his WBO interim title against New Zealand’s Parker (34-3, 23 KOs) in the 12-round co-feature of that pay-per-view show.

“We’re not underestimating Parker,” George told BoxingScene.com. “Everybody just assumed immediately that Parker was shot, that he was gone and that he was done. Wilder looked like he didn’t wanna be there. We’re focused. Zhilei wants to be there. He wants to be active and he just comes to fight. We’re coming to fight, coming to box and coming to win. And we wanna keep winning.”

Wilder was a 7-1 favorite to top Parker. The former WBO champion carried a three-fight winning streak into his bout with Wilder, but before he strung together those three wins he was knocked out by England’s Joe Joyce (15-2, 14 KOs) in the 11th round of their September 2022 fight at AO Arena in Manchester, England.

That didn’t stop Parker from outboxing Wilder, who seemed reluctant to engage with Parker at times and failed to land the type of trademark right hand that has defined his career. Parker beat Wilder by large margins on all three scorecards (120-108, 118-110, 118-111).

“There could be a lot of different things going on with Wilder right now,” said George, a retired light heavyweight. “Maybe he has one foot out the door already. Everybody was talking about how happy he looked during that whole fight week, kind of kumbaya. So, it could’ve been a lot of different things. Or maybe he just totally looked past Parker, which he definitely did. He thought all he had to do was show up and then Parker was gonna fold.

“But Parker showed that, ‘No, I’m here to fight. I’m here to win. I’m here with a game plan.’ Him and Andy Lee, they came down with a game plan. So, you can’t underestimate somebody that has a will to win. You can’t underestimate a competitor. And Joseph Parker and Andy Lee, his coach, are competitors.”

The 6-foot-6, 287-pound Zhang opened as a 2-1 favorite over Parker in part because of his two stoppages of the usually durable Joyce last year.

The 2008 Olympic silver medalist beat Joyce by sixth-round technical knockout in their first fight because he continually connected with left hands that caused prohibitive swelling around Joyce’s right eye April 15 at Copper Box Arena in London. Zhang emphatically ended their immediate rematch with a right hook that brutally knocked out Joyce late in the third round September 23 at OVO Arena Wembley in London.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Parker, 32, is eight years younger than Zhang, though, and proved versus the 38-year-old Wilder that he has plenty of championship-caliber boxing left in him.

“Parker is a former WBO heavyweight of the world, so you’ve gotta treat him with respect,” George said. “We’re gonna train with respect.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.