Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Anthony Joshua faces Francis Ngannou jeopardy – but holds key advantage over Tyson Fury

The Briton is approaching another shot at a world heavyweight title but former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou presents a threat after almost shocking Tyson Fury in his boxing debut

Steve Bunce
Monday 04 March 2024 09:13 GMT
Johnny Fisher on his history degree, ‘Bosh’, and sparring Joe Joyce in Vegas

The fun carnival of boxing in Saudi Arabia ended in the third round last October when Francis Ngannou sent Tyson Fury sprawling to the canvas.

The fun was finished in that shocking moment; boxing is not football, snooker, darts, tennis, Formula One or golf – boxing is far more dangerous, and the very best plans, schemes and bank vaults are useless against a well-placed left hook. One punch, less than a second in time, and the schedule gets ripped up.

Big Francis, the reigning UFC heavyweight champion before he left the promotion to begin a boxing career, dropped Fury and that led to Fury pulling out of the “Fight of the Century” against Oleksandr Uysk, which was planned for December. That, in turn, led to Deontay Wilder fighting that night and losing to Joseph Parker; that led to Wilder not fighting Anthony Joshua and, instead, Joshua fighting Ngannou on Friday in Riyadh. It was just one solitary left hook.

Ngannou vs Joshua is made for Saudi, it’s made for the new audience, it’s made for the money that is now available, and it will deliver enough thrills and spills to silence any purists. The Fury vs Ngannou fight was so much more competitive than most people expected; Ngannou’s family and liars believed it would be close. This fight, just Ngannou’s second under boxing rules, will be even better.

There is, in theory, no mystery left about Ngannou’s ability; in the Fury fight, he showed us all that he knew, and it was enough. It was enough to push the man considered the best heavyweight in the world for the full 10 rounds and for Ngannou to drop a disputed split decision. “I’m pleased with what I did; I’m proud of what I did,” said Ngannou.

The truth is that Ngannou was a revelation but all he did was the basics. There was no genius attached to his work, just a commitment to box sensibly, not take risks, not fall over his feet, not punch thin air, keep his hands up, avoid panic and not get excited. They are all rules an amateur coach will tell an 11-year-old having their first contest. He stuck to a simple plan and it was – let’s be brutally honest – too much for Fury to solve. Fury at the time, let’s not forget, was being compared to the greatest heavyweights in history and one or two fictional characters. Fury was in the same debate as who would win between Chuck Norris and King Kong. Chuck, by the way.

Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou meet in a Riyadh ring on Friday (PA Wire)

Joshua knows what Ngannou did so well back in October and he has the advantage of being able to prepare for something that is known; Fury and his people were working in the dark and it showed. Ngannou has promised that he will be even better; I believe him. However, he can only improve on what he has already mastered and any attempt at adding too many slick moves and complicated combinations will reduce the effectiveness of the jabs, crosses and left hooks; it was those essential and rudimentary punches that landed so frequently on a confused Fury. Also, Mike Tyson had worked on Ngannou’s feet, and it helped the novice keep his shape.

Joshua, meanwhile, will benefit from a lifetime of learning. He might well need all the stuff he has stored in his head since walking through the doors at Finchley Boxing Club. It takes more than power and brawn to beat Ngannou and it takes more than dancing and flicking out a jab. Joshua and his people know this and they will bring the difference on the night.

Joshua with Saudi adviser Turki Al-Sheikh (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

Ngannou can be made to look uncomfortable and that must be the plan; Joshua is a smart fighter and that is what beats Ngannou. And bravery, and risk and power. Ngannou never once looked uncomfortable in 10 long rounds with Fury.

The boxing roadshow in Riyadh will be massive, Ngannou is an enigmatic big man and Joshua already had an edge six weeks ago in London when the fight was made official. I sensed that day that Ngannou knew it would not be an easy night and that was fine with him. Joshua knows exactly what will happen if he loses on Friday; it will be a loss of status and that will hurt. Joshua is fighting for a future and to keep his history intact. He is a two-time world heavyweight champion with real ambitions to win it a third time – he can’t lose to a novice, no matter how thick the novice’s neck is. Fury got away with one last October but Joshua is judged far more harshly – he will not be treated with such reverence. If Joshua loses, he will be skewered. Fury walked away bruised but avoided scrutiny for a dreadful performance.

Francis Ngannou mocks Tyson Fury after knocking down the champion (AFP/Getty)

It's an intriguing fight at the end of a hectic week. There will be pressure, expectations and promises of future fights; both will have to ignore the distractions. The Saudi boxing revolution is still going strong and Joshua against Ngannou might just be the best yet. At some point, Joshua will get caught and so will Ngannou; the man with the best instincts might be the winner.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in