Preview: Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou – heavyweight boxing fight

Cameroonian fighter Ngannou says he would love to ‘knock Joshua out’ in his second pro boxing fight in Saudi Arabia.

Boxing - Anthony Joshua & Francis Ngannou - Press Conference - HERE at Outernet, London, Britain - January 15, 2024 Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou face off during the press conference Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Anthony Joshua (left) said he will not make the mistake of underestimating his less experienced opponent Francis Ngannou (right) in Friday night's fight [Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters]

Who: Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou
What: Heavyweight boxing fight (10 rounds)
When: Friday, March 8, 2024 at 23:00 GMT
Where: Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Francis Ngannou believes his strong showing in his pro boxing debut against Tyson Fury has given him confidence ahead of his bout against British heavyweight Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia.

The former UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou will fight Joshua at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena on Friday.

Ngannou made his debut in October, losing via split decision to WBC world champion Fury in a non-title bout.

The Cameroonian-French fighter almost delivered an upset when he dropped Fury to the canvas with a left hook in that fight.

“I feel confident enough, based on my training, the hard work that I put in,” Ngannou said in his pre-fight press conference on Wednesday.

“It [fight against Fury] was a good experience and it definitely guided me better to have proper training.

“Every space I have open, I am going to hit … I am not going to leave any stone unturned and any opportunity unexplored.”

Much of the pre-fight narrative is presuming a win for Joshua that would put him in line to fight Fury, provided Fury – the WBC champion – beats Oleksandr Usyk – the WBA, IBF and WBO champion – in their rearranged May 18 bout that will crown the first undisputed heavyweight champion since 2000.

Ngannou is ready to make more headlines in his fast-track bid to become a boxing champion so soon after dominating the UFC scene.

“I’ve exposed myself – the guy who is coming next time [Joshua] knows what to deal with,” Ngannou said after arriving in Riyadh.

“I’ve lost that element of surprise. So how can I surprise him again? What can I pull from my sleeve once again?”

Ngannou, who has a 17-3 mixed martial arts record with 12 victories by knockout, will once again be the underdog when he faces two-time world heavyweight champion Joshua, but the Briton said he would not make the mistake of underestimating his less-experienced opponent.

“He’s been boxing. His first dream was to be a boxer, which people forget. He was part of the Cameroonian team,” Joshua told reporters.

“I know what I am up against, I look at all of these small details. I spar, I do my film study, all that type of stuff.”

A rags-to-riches story

Ngannou once toiled in a sand mine, scavenged for food to avoid starvation and slept rough in a car park, so facing former two-time world heavyweight champion Joshua is just another stop on his rags-to-riches journey.

“I’ve had a lot of experience in life,” the softly-spoken Cameroon-born fighter said with characteristic understatement.

“I’ve built my fighting spirit as high as anyone else.”

Ngannou has crammed a lot into his 37 years.

The child of a single mother, he had to walk six miles to school and from the age of 10 he shovelled sand from open quarries, his meagre income helping to buy food and books.

“It was work meant for adults, but we didn’t have any options,” said Ngannou of his back-breaking labours which paid less than $2 a day.

“I didn’t like my life, I felt like I missed my childhood.”

In 2012, at the age of 26 and fired by dreams of becoming a professional boxer, Ngannou, now boasting a towering physique carved from his brutal work in the sand pits, made a break for Europe and a better life.

Crammed with others into the back of a pick-up truck, he crossed the unforgiving Sahara, travelled through Nigeria, Niger and Algeria before reaching Morocco.

Then, after half a dozen failed attempts, he finally made it over the Mediterranean to Spain where he was promptly jailed for two months for making an illegal crossing.

He took a train to Paris and lived in a car park before local boxing coach Didier Carmont found him a place to live and a gym in which to train.

Despite an early fascination with Mike Tyson, Ngannou graduated towards Mixed Martial Arts and in 2021 became the UFC world heavyweight champion.

Many scoffed when he opted to make his boxing debut against world champion Tyson Fury in the so-called “Battle of the Baddest” in October last year.

The doubters were silenced, however, when Ngannou sent Fury to the canvas in the third round before losing only on a controversial split decision.

However, Ngannou’s reputation and bank balance soared. He was paid $10m for his night’s work, a windfall which has helped the once shoeless Cameroonian buy a luxurious home in Las Vegas.

‘I can knock Joshua out’

On Friday, Ngannou will return to Riyadh to face 34-year-old Joshua whose career could take a big blow if he loses.

“Of course I can knock Joshua out,” said Ngannou. “I believe if I land on anyone, I will knock them out. The question is how to land. That’s the hardest thing.”

Joshua, a former unified WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight champion, comes into the fight on the back of three successive wins.

Before that, however, he lost back-to-back fights with Oleksandr Usyk who will fight Fury for the undisputed heavyweight title in Saudi in May.

“This Friday it’s going to go down, so I can’t wait for the opportunity to show my skills and combat this person who thinks he can knock me out,” Joshua said of Ngannou.

“I believe I can knock him out. Definitely. I would love to knock him out and make a statement.

“He has to be ready for the shots which are coming his way because I’m a man who will be standing in front of him, bringing him a lot of hell.”

Source: News Agencies