We’re almost a week removed from Tyson Fury’s razor-thin split decision win over pro boxing debutant Francis Ngannou in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but the shockwaves continue to ripple through the sport.
Ngannou, a former UFC heavyweight champ, floored Fury in round three and pushed the WBC titleholder all the way before losing what many view as a controversial points verdict.
On the back of this very impressive performance, the Cameroon-born fighter’s stock has soared, and, as a result, several world-class heavyweights are lining up to face him next.
And the name you’ll see mentioned most is none other than the former two-time unified champion of the world, Anthony Joshua.
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“Francis Ngannou against Anthony Joshua, perhaps in Africa, perhaps the Rumble in the Jungle 2, is one of the biggest fights in the history of the sport,” said AJ’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, in an interview with The MMA Hour.
OK, before we take swipes at Eddie for overstatement, he is a promoter. For the Matchroom boss to simply say that Joshua vs. Ngannou is a big event isn’t good enough, so he needs to release some major league hyperbole and push the narrative. That’s his job and he’s good at it. We get that!
Bottom line: Joshua vs. Ngannou is not “one of the biggest fights in the history of the sport.” It’s not even the biggest fight at heavyweight today (Fury vs. Usyk, Fury vs. Joshua, and Joshua vs. Wilder are all bigger). Also, African nations aren’t about to put together Saudi Arabia-level purses for the Rumble in the Jungle 2.
With all that said, Joshua vs. Ngannou is still a colossal event and would draw huge interest around the world. But forget the whole Africa idea. It’s been two years since Joshua took part in a stadium fight in the U.K. and this one is made for that format.
Does anyone doubt that Joshua vs. Ngannou sells out Wembley Stadium? The fact that no world title would be on the line is absolutely irrelevant because this one sells itself.
Two key questions would be answered: can Joshua take a punch from Francis Ngannou, and can Ngannou beat a top heavyweight who is fully prepared?
The second might draw wrath from those who believe Fury was fighting fit. Personally, I don’t, and as my colleague Andreas Hale said in the latest episode of Fightin’ Words, “Ngannou won’t be sneakin’ up on anyone ever again!” That’s a nailed-on fact.
While Fury might have gone through the motions in preparation for Ngannou, he was clearly not in the same physical or mental condition that he’s been in for his biggest fights. His judgement of distance and timing was way off and he looked distracted before the fight even started. “The Gypsy King” took a liberty and the crown was almost knocked off his head.
But one thing we know about Joshua is that he’s always prepared. While he’s changed trainers as often as his trunks recently, AJ’s physical conditioning is beyond reproach. Whether he’s facing Ngannou or the King of Norway, the ex-champ will always put in the hard graft in the gym.
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Common sense tells us that a fully prepared and in-form Joshua would tie a nice Union Jack coloured ribbon around Ngannou and punch him all the way back to the world of MMA. However, the last time the boxing community applied common sense to an Ngannou fight, the 37-year-old powerhouse gathered as many eggs as he could and smashed them off our collective faces.
What if Ngannou lands on AJ? Hearn told iFLTV that Fury was dropped by “virtually a nothing shot.” While it certainly wasn’t out of the Joe Frazier handbook, Ngannou’s left hand had weight on it and it struck Fury roughly around the same area as Andy Ruiz caught AJ at Madison Square Garden… and we know what happened there.
I would pick Joshua to batter Ngannou into submission, but I wouldn’t be anywhere near as confident as I was in the buildup to the Fury fight. Ngannou has more than earned the right to be taken seriously when he enters a prize ring and I won’t be stubbing my toe twice.
Would Hearn stake his life on Joshua surviving an Ngannou shot? I doubt it.