Sky's the limit: Zach Parker interview

Mark Butcher
28/04/2018 8:45pm

Zach Parker sees the super middleweights opening up for him. He tells Mark Butcher that he's the coming man at 23...

A new hope is rising among the super-middleweights. As the George Groves and James DeGale era winds down, Derbyshire’s Zach Parker is aiming to carry domestic expectation in a division with a rich history in British boxing.

After a low key grounding on the small hall circuit, Parker had flown under the radar of most fight fans until he bombed out former Commonwealth champion Luke Blackledge on the Callum Smith vs Erik Skoglund World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) quarter-final undercard in October.

That one-round blowout earned Parker a deal with the influential Sauerland Promotion and opened the door to further undercard appearances in the high-profile tournament with the 23-year-old serving as a reserve in the event of injury to semi-finalists Groves and Chris Eubank Jr. It’s a far cry from Parker’s ninth fight when he knocked out David Bauza at that most unlikely of fight venues, Tewkesbury School in Gloucestershire.

This whirlwind rise has taken even Parker by surprise. “It was crazy because I went from fighting in front of a couple of hundred people and now I’m on one of the biggest stages possible with the World Super Series Boxing,” Parker told BM over the phone before training. “Being a reserve for Groves-Eubank put the icing on the cake.

“That’s what I’m in the sport for. You want to be on the biggest stage possible when you start boxing,” he said. “I just thought the whole experience was amazing, really. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. Now I’m with the Sauerlands, that’s where I can get to.

“Before I was just boxing on Midlands shows and that. After the Luke Blackledge fight, everyone started taking note. When you’ve been fighting in front of maybe 25 people, it sort of takes your breath away. I can’t thank the Sauerlands enough for putting me on these shows and giving me a chance.”

Parker was a keen observer as the more polished Groves took full advantage of Eubank’s limitations and Smith overcame late sub and former kickboxer Nieky Holzken in the WBSS 168lbs semi-finals.

“Groves-Eubank was a good fight. I knew it would go Groves’ way because he’s a much bigger fighter. I thought he would win on points because Eubank’s got a good chin,” said Parker. “Callum Smith made a hard night of it with that other lad. You can see it wasn’t an easy [opponent], but he made tough work of it. I’ve been boxing since I was four years old so I know what I’m doing; that other lad used to be a kickboxer. Hopefully, [the Smith fight] gets made in the next couple of years.”

Yet it could have happened already with Parker offered the replacement WBSS semi-final berth before Holzken, following Jurgen Braehmer’s late withdrawal. Parker refused, reluctantly, as he could not safely make the 12 stone limit on such short notice. “They offered me the fight on the Monday or the Tuesday [on fight week],” he explained. “I was just over a stone over the weight so it would have been a bit dangerous losing that in three or four days, so I didn’t take it. But when I was watching [the Smith-Holzken fight], I was thinking, “I should have taken this.” If I could have made the weight, I would have taken it. It got on my nerves a little bit, really!”

Parker (15-0, 11 KOs) had only just stopped Adasat Rodriguez in two rounds on the Groves-Eubank undercard. “He was meant to be a really tough lad, he took [Erik] Skoglund into the 12th round. So it looked quite impressive getting him out in two. I thought I boxed well. On my jab first round then, once I caught him with that left hook, I thought, “I’ve got to get you now” because he’s a tough lad. I didn’t want him staying there too long. It was a good fight, but I’d rather have had that Groves-Eubank one!”

Parker’s elevation to a loftier stage came off the back of that impressive blowout of the capable Blackledge, who had taken Smith’s best shots for almost 10 rounds back in 2016. “A lot of people wrote me off for that fight, thinking I was inexperienced, but I know what I’m doing in the gym,” said Parker, who turned switch-hitter to great effect on that breakthrough night in Liverpool.

“The size difference was there and I just knew I was going to get him straight away. He was a bit timid. Once I landed with that shot [a left hand in the southpaw stance], I knew I’d got him.”

Like the aforementioned Smith, Parker hails from a fighting family. Father Darren lost to Chris Eubank Sr. in February 1988, meaning an encounter with the next generation of Eubank would offer Parker an intriguing shot at family revenge.

“When my dad got offered that fight, it was at a week’s notice and he had to boil himself down to the weight,” said Parker. “He ain’t really said much about it. It would make out for a good story, my dad boxed his dad then both sons boxing. I know I’d beat him. I’ve got the boxing ability [notably absent from Eubank’s swing and miss performance against Groves] and he’s a bit small for super-middleweight, I reckon. I think I’ve got the upper hand on him.”

Brothers Duane (a retired 14-1 middleweight) and Lee were also fighters (cousin Connor Parker is a 6-0 pro super-lightweight) though Zach has progressed the furthest, with helpful advice from the family’s older heads. “Because I’m the youngest [brother], I’ve learned off their mistakes,” said Parker. “I ain’t done the same things. I’ve taken note of all of them as well. My two brothers boxed, my dad boxed and they’ve given me input throughout my career. It’s really helped a lot. So I put 110% into every session, making sure I’m the best I can be.”

In 2017, Parker travelled to Germany to spar WBA Regular title-holder and Team Sauerland stablemate Tyron Zeuge. The champion apparently struggled with the Midlander’s size and range, and the gym work was quickly curtailed. “I went over to spar Zeuge for the whole week. The first day I got in with him for six rounds, but the rest of the week he didn’t want to spar with me. I think I was just a bit too big for him, too long and rangy. I only did those six rounds with him in the end.

“[That fight] is a possibility because we are both with the Sauerlands. If they can make that – I’ll definitely have it, but I want that British title. It’s such a nice belt. I want that first then get on to the world stage after. My dad would always speak to me about the Lonsdale Belt when I was growing up. I want to win it and keep it outright, keep it for good.”

So, though Parker is on the fringes of world title contention already, the prestige of the British crown and its handsome Lonsdale Belt holds more immediate allure. Nominated by the BBB of C to challenge for the British title in 2017, Parker was left waiting as champion Rocky Fielding relinquished his crown with eyes on a shot at WBO king Gilberto Ramirez. “I’m just coming up and he wants a bigger fight, I think. A world title fight,” said Parker. “If he fought me and lost, he’d go behind me. I’d take the fight, but he’s waiting for a bigger fight, a bigger money fight.“

The owner of a stiff jab, allied with height and pop, Parker is a box-fighter with the rock solid fundamentals to pose problems. “I can box and move, use my boxing pedigree, but if it gets rough and that – I’m ready to go at it,” he said. “Obviously, I can hit quite hard. I can bang inside as well. I’m clever with my movements, turning southpaw, making [opponents] more muddled up, using my angles, different angles. I keep working hard all the time, get my fitness as best as it can be. I’m still learning.”

Parker dropped a decision to Olympic bronze medallist Joshua Buatsi in the ABA quarter-finals in 2014 and earned four national titles in his younger days, but became disillusioned with the amateur system and its accompanying bureaucracy, prompting him to turn pro at just 21. Trained by Errol Johnson and Paul Mann, Parker has been ably guided since by respected manager Neil Marsh who also represents super-featherweight contender Robbie Davies Jr.

“Neil had watched a couple of YouTube videos and rang up Errol and said, “Come and box on one of my shows,” recalled Parker. “We got on mint [well] ever since. He’s been great for me with his managing skills. I feel I’ve got the best team behind me.”

Now residing in nearby Woodville, Parker was born in the Midlands town of Swadlincote, which may ring a few bells for veteran fight fans. The town’s Green Bank Leisure Centre hosted Neville Brown’s rousing encounters with Willie Quinn and Hacine Cherifi in the late 1990s, but was most notably the home of former British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight champion Jack Bodell.

“We’ve got three or four amateur gyms there now - my dad’s got one of them, Swadlincote ABC. I think one is South Derbyshire and another one is Royal Oak,” said Parker. “Jack Bodell came from Royal Oak. I’ll hopefully follow in his footsteps and be another British champion from ‘Swad’. Win the British title and win it outright – that’s my aim at the minute. Obviously, if there was a bigger opportunity, I’d [grab] it, after being reserve for the World Super Series Boxing.

“The sky is the limit. After the British, I’m ready for the world titles. I’m young, I’m only 23. If you look, everyone else in the super-middleweight division is almost thirty. So I think it’s setting it up for me – to come and take over. “