Anthony Joshua faces danger from Francis Ngannou, but has an important advantage over Tyson Fury

By | March 4, 2024

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

At that shocking moment the fun was over; Boxing is not football, snooker, darts, tennis, Formula 1 or golf – boxing is far more dangerous, and the very best schemes, schemes and bank vaults are useless against a well-placed left hook. One blow, less than a second in time and the schedule is torn to pieces.

Great Francis Fury dropped and that led to Fury withdrawing from the fight of the century against Oleksandr Uysk, which was scheduled for December. That in turn led to Deontay Wilder topping the list, losing to Joseph Parker; that led to Wilder not fighting Anthony Joshua on Saturday in Riyadh and instead fighting Ngannou against Ngannou. It was just one lone left hook.

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

There is no mystery left about Ngannou’s ability in theory; in the Fury fight he showed us everything he knew, and it was enough. It was enough to pressure the man considered the best heavyweight in the world for the full ten rounds and for Ngannou to drop a contested split decision. “I am satisfied with what I have done; I am proud of what I have done,” Ngannou said.

The truth is, Ngannou was a revelation, but all he did was the basics. There was no genius involved in his work, just a commitment to boxing sensibly, not taking risks, not falling over his feet, not punching air, keeping his hands up, avoiding panic and not getting excited. These are all rules that an amateur coach will tell an 11-year-old having his first competition. He stuck to a simple plan and it was, let’s face it, too much for Fury to handle. Let’s not forget that at the time, Fury was compared to history’s greatest heavyweights 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 the ring on Friday (Zac Goodwin/PA) (PA Wire)

Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou meet in the ring on Friday (Zac Goodwin/PA) (PA Wire)

Joshua knows so well what Ngannou did in October, and he has the advantage of being able to prepare for something that is familiar; Fury and his people worked in the dark and it showed. Ngannou has promised he will be even better, and I believe him. However, he can only improve on what he has already mastered and any attempt to add 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 so often landed on a confused Fury. Mike Tyson had also been working on Ngannou’s feet, and it helped the rookie maintain his form.

Joshua, meanwhile, will benefit from lifelong learning. He might need all the stuff he’s been storing in his head since he walked through the doors of Finchley Boxing Club. It will take more than strength and muscle to beat Ngannou, and it will take more than dancing and throwing a punch. Joshua and his people know this, and they will make the difference tonight.

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

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

Ngannou can look uncomfortable and that has to be the plan; Joshua is a smart fighter and that’s what beats Ngannou. And courage, and risk and power. Ngannou never looked uncomfortable in ten long rounds with Fury.

The boxing roadshow in Riyadh will be huge, Ngannou is an enigmatic big man and Joshua already had the edge in London six weeks ago when the fight was made official. I felt that day that Ngannou knew it wasn’t going to be an easy night and he was fine with that. Joshua knows exactly what will happen if he loses on Saturday; it will be a loss of status and that will hurt. Joshua fights for a future and to keep his history intact. He is a two-time world heavyweight champion and has real ambitions to win the title for a third time. He can’t lose to a novice, no matter how big that novice’s neck is. Fury got away with it last October, but Joshua is judged much more harshly and he won’t be treated with as much deference. If Joshua loses, he will be put through the paces; Fury walked away bruised but avoided criticism for a terrible performance.

Francis Ngannou mocks Tyson Fury after knocking down the boxer (AFP via Getty Images)Francis Ngannou mocks Tyson Fury after knocking down the boxer (AFP via Getty Images)

Francis Ngannou mocks Tyson Fury after knocking down the boxer (AFP via Getty Images)

It’s an intriguing battle at the end of a hectic week. There will be pressure, expectations and promises for future fights; both will have to ignore the distractions. The Saudi boxing revolution is still underway and Joshua vs. Ngannou might 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.

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