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Anthony Joshua coldly killed off Francis Ngannou. Now his destiny is Tyson Fury

Fury was ringside to watch and applaud as Joshua out-boxed Ngannou with the performance of a heavyweight champion

Steve Bunce
Kingdom Arena, Riyadh
Saturday 09 March 2024 13:24 GMT
Anthony Joshua looking to build on knockout win over Francis Ngannou

Anthony Joshua stood at the feet of Francis Ngannou in round two of their fight in Riyadh in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Joshua just looked down, there was no merry dance of celebration or relief; it was strictly business.

Joshua had just sent Ngannou down for the third time and this time the former UFC champion was not moving. He was out cold and required medical attention in the ring.

It was the only possible result for Anthony Joshua in a fight that he had to win. A scrappy, ugly points victory would have not helped his image. The knockout was essential.

Joshua was fighting for his future, defending his ring history and had to beat Ngannou in style. He did, and it was brutal, cold and calculating.

Ngannou had entered the ring bouncing, smiling and confident that his switch in fighting codes, a move from being the UFC king to dangerous boxing contender, had been a success. Last October, he lost on points over 10 rounds, but dropped Tyson Fury in his first-ever boxing match; Joshua was his hand-picked second opponent and the story all week revolved around the simple question: what if he catches Joshua clean? Few were asking the question in reverse.

From the opening bell, which tolled at about 3:30am Saudi time, Joshua never gave Ngannou a chance. Not one. Ngannou was struggling with Joshua’s movement and accuracy from the very start. Ngannou threw a few wild, sweeping hooks, missed and was easily moved around the ring by Joshua. It was champ against raw novice.

Joshua floor Ngannou en route to a dominant victory (Reuters)
Ngannou was knocked down three times by Joshua (Getty Images)
Joshua celebrates after securing victory in Riyadh (Getty Images)

The first knockdown was a classic; Joshua moved his shoulder, Ngannou moved a hand to block what he thought was coming, and Joshua connected with a textbook straight right. Ngannou was down in a heavy heap, a victim of Joshua’s power and his own naivety. The ring shook. Ngannou looked both hurt and confused – Joshua calm and composed. There were 45 seconds left in the opening round.

Ngannou survived the round but looked unsteady as he walked back to his corner, which was not a happy place. There was a problem placing the enlarged stall under him. It looked messy, Ngannou looked stunned.

Joshua remained composed when the second round started, letting his jab work, moving his feet and making Ngannou miss. Joshua was beating Ngannou with simple boxing skills and Ngannou had no idea what to do. And he knew it.

There were about 50 seconds left when Ngannou was dropped again; it was the same straight right. There was a case for a stoppage at that point. Ngannou needed protecting, the man they said could not be hurt was on his feet, but out of his head.

The referee, Ricky Gonzalez, said “fight”, Ngannou was stuck on the spot, his legs heavy, his senses dulled, a sitting duck, broken but still standing. Joshua simply walked across the ring, set his feet and connected cleanly with the best right cross of his life. Ngannou was out cold before he hit the canvas; the medics were in quickly and Joshua simply raised his arms. It had been a triumph. The time was 2:38 of the second round. The other time, real time, was about 4am.

Joshua wants to fight twice more this year; Ngannou will consider his boxing future. And, at ringside, Tyson Fury applauded. “Styles make fights,” he told me at dawn. And that is true in the boxing game. In May, Fury fights Oleksandr Usyk for all four belts; Usyk has twice beaten Joshua. Styles make fights, a simple boxing axiom.

Joshua against Fury one day might be the biggest and richest fight in boxing history. In Riyadh, the best Joshua so far showed why he is always a danger. Fury at ringside had a close and very personal preview of the man he must one day fight.

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