Some professional boxers turn over with a silver spoon in each hand. They have represented their country and waved its flag, and they find themselves on the fast track from the get-go. For most fighters, though, the road to contention is not paved with yellow bricks of gold so they have to build themselves from their feet up until opportunity knocks and they get to headline the type of fights that they once attended as fans.
Derby’s Zach Parker (19-0, 13 KOs) is one of those fighters. Like Scott Quigg and Terry Flanagan before him, he came up from the small hall circuit. His professional debut was against the quintessential journeyman Lewis van Poetsch in July 2015 and he motored on from there. Even when he got to British title level the odds ended up stacked against him when he dislocated his left shoulder and teared his rotator cuff, labrum and subscapularis against the then-undefeated Darryll Williams before somehow managing to eke out a close split decision win.
Parker’s staccato, stop-start and nomadic career has helped him develop a steady form and focus. His manager, Neil Marsh, has secured him a long-term promotional deal with Frank Warren and he makes his BT Sport debut later tonight against America’s Vaughn Alexander at the Copper Box Arena.
It has been a long time coming, but Parker told Boxing Social that a change is definitely going to come, he will continue to work his way towards a WBO super-middleweight title shot and he does not care if that means having to meet the winner of the fight between Saul Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders.
“I am buzzing to be back, especially as I’m headlining a BT show,” he said when sending a few dispatches from the bubble via a WhatsApp call. “I’ve come from the small halls, built my way up and got to where I want to be. I want to be here for a long time now. I came from the bottom, like some other fighters, but things slowed down other the last few years so I’m happy I’ve signed this new deal with Frank Warren and BT Sport.
“I left all the talks to Neil and Frank. I’m just over the moon with being with the best promoter in the world and headlining in my first fight, you couldn’t ask for more and it is a great opportunity for me. Frank knows what boxing is all about and how to get you to the top.
“I built myself up over time. I didn’t get anything handed to me and people forget that although I’ve been a pro since 2015, I’m still only 26 and have got a lot of time ahead of me. I’m glad I did it this way because every victory and title is sweet.
“Obviously, I see amateurs who get built up straightway. We would all love that, but not everyone gets that opportunity despite the fact I was a good amateur who won national titles and boxed for England. If I did it the other way, it wouldn’t have been the same — doing it this way made me what I am today.
“Boxing was always different for me. I wasn’t fighting top boys at the start, then I won a title, and you know you need to be fighting top boys at least three times a year after that. It lets you learn with each fight. I want to be busy know and Frank has said I will be busy. I beat Rohan Murdock for the WBO Inter-Continental title, but I felt I could have fought a lot better than I did. I didn’t show what I was about in that fight. It was a win, but I’ve got a lot more to my game than what I showed there.”
Despite all of the social circles within boxing, it is a sport that can only be understood if you appreciate isolation — that feeling of being a lonely person in a crowded room. John Murray once told me that you train as a pack yet once that first bell goes the ring becomes the loneliest place in the world. You can walk to the ring with a 20-man entourage, but ultimately you end up alone and must face your opponent. Parker has had to face a new opponent this week: boredom.
“I spend a lot of time on my iPad watching YouTube,” he said when talking about the boxing bubble. “Then you try to train a little bit, relax and stay on top of your weight. I’ve been watching boxsets, mostly. Stuff like Game of Thrones, films and anything that passes the time.
“Boxing in the pandemic is weird. I’ve seen fights on TV with no fans then you have them yourself, and you just have to get on with it. This pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon so you have to adapt around it the way other people in other areas do. My job is to stay on top of my game, adapt and work around it. I’ve seen a few top prospects lose when the pressure comes in so you just can’t let it get to you.”
Indeed, Parker had to endure some tough, lonely moments during his win over Williams. The 26-year-old had to grit it out to win the Lonsdale Belt. Many fighters like to win the belt outright. Parker, though, knew it was not going to happen for him as he had to go through a period of intense rehabilitation to put himself into a position to even put himself into a position where he could step into the ring again.
“I learned a lot from that fight,” he recalled. “I was injured early, turned southpaw at times and had to figure it out. I had a Plan A, B and C — I’ve got plans all the way until the end of the alphabet. That is what I have got in my boxing skills. I had to do something different and did it. A lot of people don’t understand how bad and painful a dislocation it was. A lot of people might have given up. I showed my true grit, showed that I have skills in my bag, and it was a good learning curve.
“Yes, it was disappointing that I didn’t get to defend the title, but it was a bad injury, I had to have a lot of physio, so I didn’t get that opportunity. I was out for six months and then came back and got myself into a good position. It was hard, you are sat around not doing nothing, but I’ve got a great team around me. Neil got me some great physio. I’m glad I stuck with that physio despite how long I had to travel for it and how hard it was. I did it properly and it has made me stronger than ever. I’m hitting as stronger as ever.”
Still, after suffering such a bad injury it would be only natural to wonder if it could happen again at any time. Most people would think twice about getting back into the ring with that thought rattling away in the back of the mind. Thankfully, for those who like to watch boxing, fighters aren’t like most people. Parker didn’t even give it a second thought.
“Anything can happen in that boxing ring,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do, stuff can happen. I made sure I did the physio to make sure my shoulder was working properly, and I put the hours in to make sure it was better. I also put a lot of hours into working on my skillset during that time, so I made the most of something bad that happened to me.”
Parker has got to ease past Alexander. A win is expected yet taking fights when you have a decent ranking is always tough. The exemplar I tend to go to is Frankie Randall getting hammered by Primo Ramos when he was one fight away from a world title shot. You get yourself into a good position then either must stick or twist. Parker has decided that he needs rounds in the bank to continue his education.
“With every fight, I try to put in top performances topped by a knockout,” he said when talking about the Alexander fight. “Fans want the knockouts. Alexander is going to be tough, so I’m looking forward to the fight.”
Outside of the boxing ring, both Ricky Hatton and Josh Warrington understood the importance of bringing in football fans via their footballing allegiances. Parker supports Derby County FC and boxes for his city, his club and its fans. Despite the fact it has been a yo-yo club in recent years, Parker believes that former Manchester United and England legend Wayne Rooney can bring the good times back again. He hopes to do the same on the boxing front and hopes that, once things settle down, he can bring his passion for boxing and football together.
“Wayne Rooney can turn it around,” he declared. “I am gutted I can’t go to Pride Park. I hope things start getting back to normal so that I can go to games. It is crazy that we have a legend like Rooney playing for then managing us. A lot of fans I speak to grew up watching him play so it is mad for us that he is part of the club. I think he likes Derby, so I hope he stays for a bit and gets us back on track again. As soon as fans can come to fight, I’ll try to get Wayne and the team ringside tickets. I really hope they’ll come out and support me.”
That WBO ranking is Parker’s Golden Ticket. If he can hang on to it, he can either fight for the vacant title at some point or, ideally, challenge Alvarez. Parker told me that he admires the Mexican’s dedication to his craft, the way he strives to improve defensively and offensively, and that in an ideal world he gets to challenge him. Alvarez fights Billy Joe Saunders next, but Parker feels that this is a huge step up for his fellow Brit.
“It is going to be hard for Billy,” he predicted. “I think he’s a small super-middleweight and Alvarez has grown into the division. I can see a stoppage for Canelo. I want that test for myself against the best in the world, pound-for-pound. You want to find out if you are good enough and you can only do that if you can get in there with him. I see Alvarez working hard and want to make the best out of what I have got myself: head movement, power punching and defence — I want to improve on everything.
“I want two more fights after this. Frank said two more, one in summer and then towards the end of the year. Neil and Frank sort things out for me. I just need to train hard, win and I can do that because they sort out all that technical stuff.”
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.