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Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou: Reputations & Lessons Learned

On 8th March 2024, Anthony Joshua fought Francis Ngannou in a ‘Knockout Chaos’ boxing contest in Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The highly anticipated bout was made particularly interesting given the trajectories of both fighters. Ngannou was entering his second ever professional boxing contest after having fought Tyson Fury on 28th October 2023. Although Ngannou is recorded as having lost the fight, it was widely understood that he had actually won, even knocking down Fury in the 3rd round. Given the the extent to which corruption pervades the sport of boxing, it came as no surprise that Fury was given the win. The sport of boxing certainly wouldn’t allow someone who is often promoted as one of the greatest fighters of our generation taking a loss from someone who had never boxed professionally before.

For Anthony Joshua, the contest with Francis Ngannou marked the culmination of his comeback. After having taken a second defeat to Oleksandr Usyk on 23rd August 2022, many felt Joshua’s best days were behind him. Joshua’s first fight after the Usyk loss was with Jermaine Franklin Jr, and although Joshua did enough to secure victory, many felt it was a less than stellar performance. Joshua had made his millions. He was an Olympic champion and former two-time unified WBO, IBF, and WBA heavyweight champion. Did he have the hunger anymore?

Anthony Joshua maintained that he still had the hunger. He was a fighter for life, he said. And he set out to prove it. His next contests were against Robert Helenius and Otto Wallin, both of whom Joshua dispatched in devastating fashion. Helenius was knocked out cold in the 7th round and Wallin quit after 5 rounds of punishment. Interestingly, Wallin had fought Tyson Fury on 14th September 2019, a bout in which many people felt Wallin should’ve been victorious after inflicting a severe cut to Fury’s right eye.

As the fight between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou came closer, opinions were divided. Although Ngannou was a newcomer in the world of boxing, he’d shown tremendous ability against Tyson Fury in his previous bout. Also Ngannou had a short-lived history with boxing, wanting to be a professional boxer before trying his hand at MMA. Joshua was on a winning streak and showing a menacing side that fans fondly remember as he climbed up the ranks.

Ultimately the bout was a one-sided affair. It became clear early on that Ngannou, a professionally trained MMA fighter, was at a major disadvantage in a boxing ring with boxing rules. Joshua knocked down Ngannou in round 1 and twice in round 2, the latter knockdown being a devastating knockout that Joshua timed to perfection.

So, where does this leave the echelons of the heavyweight boxing division? For Francis Ngannou, the loss is a realisation that crossover bouts puts one fighter at a serious disadvantage. Michael Jordan, the GOAT of basketball, once tried baseball. It didn’t work out. Conor McGregor was convinced he could beat Floyd Mayweather at boxing. How’d that turn out for him? At the elite levels of professional sport, it requires a lifetime of training and practice. In very rare and almost non-existent circumstances can someone crossover to another sport and compete at the highest levels. Ngannou, however, is still a formidable opponent and can still have competitive fights if he chooses to stick with boxing. Alternatively, if he does find himself going back to MMA, the dream fight with Jon Jones remains on the card.

This leads us onto Tyson Fury. For someone as talented as Fury is, why did he struggle so much with Francis Ngannou? One theory is that he simply didn’t take the bout seriously. Another is that styles make fights, and in this case, despite Ngannou’s lack of experience, Fury wasn’t able to bully and tire out Ngannou in the way he does other opponents. Following Ngannou’s loss to Joshua, there’s a huge question mark over Tyson Fury. Was he ever as good as he proclaimed? Was he simply untrained and uninterested in the fight with Ngannou? Or did he need a wake-up call like he had with Ngannou to get him back to his previous best?

Anthony Joshua’s reputation has been reinvigorated. While there are some attempts to temper the enthusiasm of his comeback, namely that he was fighting someone who’d only had one professional boxing bout, the fashion with which Joshua dispatched Ngannou was impressive. Ngannou had never been knocked out in MMA and is known for having an iron chin. Even an elbow from Tyson Fury didn’t affect him. But he was knocked out by Anthony Joshua, bringing to the fore that Joshua is someone who carries tremendous power.

After Anthony Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz on 1st June 2019 at Madison Square Garden, New York, many boxing fans felt that Joshua had lost his killer instinct. He came back to defeat Ruiz in the rematch, but there was something missing. A greater sense of hesitancy. He wasn’t as comfortable as before and was ‘gun shy’. Joshua’s sequence of performances with Helenius, Wallin and Ngannou have put these concerns to rest. The old AJ is back and perhaps has found a trainer in Ben Davidson that can bring the best out of him.

For Oleksandr Usyk, his stock rises. Having beaten Anthony Joshua twice, he’s been desperate to have a unification bout with Tyson Fury. Circumstances have prevented it from taking place but fans remain hopeful as there are commitments from camps of both sides. In boxing, triangle theory rarely plays out. If A beats B and B beats C, there is no guarantee that A will beat C. And this is the current outlook in the boxing heavyweight division. If Usyk beats Fury, it solidifies him as one of the greatest boxers of our age. If Tyson Fury can beat Oleksandr Usyk, it’ll set the stage for one of the biggest showdowns in heavyweight boxing history. Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua has been years in the making and is a dream fight fans have been waiting for.

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