Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei floors Joseph Parker twice yet loses, before Anthony Joshua knocks out Francis Ngannou

Chinese heavyweight boxer Zhang Zhilei suffered a setback to his world title hopes as he lost to Joseph Parker on points in Saudi Arabia, before Anthony Joshua knocked out Francis Ngannou in the night’s main event.

“Big Bang” Zhang knocked Parker down twice but did not do enough as the bout wore on and a majority decision went Parker’s way, the judges scoring it 113-113, 114-112, 115-111.

Instead, it was Joshua who supplied the explosives, demolishing Ngannou in stunning style. He floored the Cameroonian with a big right in the first round, repeated the trick in the second, then when Ngannou just beat the count, immediately knocked him out cold.

It drew a nod of approval from the watching Tyson Fury, who was himself knocked down by Ngannou before scraping a controversial split-decision win in the former UFC champion’s only previous boxing bout.

Facing New Zealand’s Parker on the undercard in Riyadh, the 40-year-old Zhang was celebrating in the third round when he put his opponent on the canvas.

Zhang had gone into their meeting ranked as the WBO’s interim champion after his two victories last year over Joe Joyce, and with one previous defeat and one draw in 28 outings.

However, he offered little after that third-round bomb and the longer the contest lasted at the Kingdom Arena, the more the balance shifted Parker’s way.

After a cagey opening two rounds in which Zhang was tentative and Parker looked to disrupt the southpaw from Henan province, Zhang felled Parker with a straight left. The 32-year-old from Auckland came through the count then was soon on the ropes again.

Parker knocked Zhang off balance with a right in the fourth as he gained a foothold, with his corner advising him to hang in there until the bout’s later stages, having seen Zhang run out of puff in the past. Their approach would prove vindicated.

Zhang offered little in the fifth and sixth, seemingly waiting for the chance to end the fight with one punch, and upped his work-rate only marginally in the seventh. He was unsettled, though, by Parker throwing a feint each time he looked to unload.

Zhang celebrates after putting Parker on the canvas during their heavyweight bout in Riyadh. Photo: Reuters

A right hand from Parker shook Zhang in the eighth but he responded by catching him with a left-right combination that left Parker on his knees facing a second count.

An even ninth round offering marginally more action preceded a 10th in which Parker was the busier, setting him up to steal it. His tactic of avoiding the predatory Zhang early in each round before outworking him brought further results in the 11th.

The final round belatedly sparked urgency from Zhang’s cornermen, who told him he now needed a knockout. There had been 21 of those in his 26 wins, but there was nothing left in the tank for a man who had been the distance only once compared with Parker’s 10 occasions.

Parker was industrious in the last, while Zhang landed zero punches, sealing his fate.

“This is a great win,” Parker said in the ring. “I just feel like we’re on the up now. Zhang is a tough man, he knocked me down twice, but we stuck to our plan. I want to go home and celebrate.”

He added that he was keen on a rematch, but the night ended with Joshua, rather than Parker or Zhang, stepping forward as the most credible would-be challenger to the winner of Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, who will meet at the same venue in May for the undisputed heavyweight title.

Anthony Joshua walks away after knocking down Francis Ngannou at the Kingdom Arena. Photo: Reuters

Afterwards, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn had a message for Fury, who was present to support his sparring partner Parker.

“You’re looking at the No 1 heavyweight in the world,” Hearn said of Joshua. “On this form, there is no man that can beat him. Tyson Fury, please beat Usyk because you will get the biggest fight in the history of the sport.”

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