Joshua, the former heavyweight boxing champion, will take on former UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou in a 10-round fight March 8 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The unexpected showdown comes on the heels of impressive performances for both men.
First, Ngannou (0-1) shocked the combat sports world in October when fought Tyson Fury to a close split decision. Yes, it ended up being a losing effort, but Ngannou knocked down Fury and impressed many observers with the performance in his professional boxing debut.
Two months later, Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs) scored a fifth-round TKO of Otto Walling after he fractured Wallin’s nose Dec. 23 at “Day of Reckoning.” The victory capped off a 3-0 year for Joshua, who was set for a highly anticipated clash with Deontay Wilder – until Wilder was upset by Joseph Parker that same night.
That opened for the door for Ngannou to land his second massive fight since leaving the UFC last year. While he knows his performance against Fury was impressive, Ngannou insists it means nothing as he prepares for what he considers an even bigger test.
“The Tyson Fury fight was great, it was awesome, but that’s now in the past,” Ngannou said during Monday’s news conference. “I have a new challenge in front of me, who I’m taking even more serious now than before, because now I think there is something more on the line. Let’s see, maybe I will do something that nobody has done before, and I really believe that I have the tools of doing that.”
By Ngannou’s side was his boxing coach, Dewey Cooper, who naturally stumped for his fighter.
“It was no surprise to us, the Tyson Fury fight,” Cooper said. “We told you all from Day 1 what was gonna happen, and the same thing applies here. We expect fire. But at the end of the day, the flaming fists of Francis will finish Joshua on March 8 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”
While his coach hyped him up, Ngannou opted to express humility in how he’s approaching Joshua.
“I’m just a beginner out here that’s gonna train really hard and do everything and come as the underdog to win the fight,” Ngannou said. “I don’t take my last fight as a reference. I think I get this done. I think I get everything. I know exactly where I am at. I’m just a beginner. I’m definitely gonna come (into this fight) better. That’s how I see things. I’m getting prepared for a hard fight.”
Prior to the Fury fight, Ngannou was widely discounted as any sort of threat given his inexperience in the ring. But now there are 10 rounds of tape that prove otherwise, which has Joshua’s undivided attention.
“Every fight leads to somewhere, so this fight is my everything,” Joshua said. “Right now I’m not thinking about any championship belts or anything. My main focus is Francis and get through an intense, focused training camp. How I train is how I fight, so if I get a victory in my training camp, I’m sure I’ll get a victory in the fight. …
“He brings two arms, a body like every other fighter does, but it’s just his mind that’s different to everyone. Everyone has their own unique – they’re unique in their own way. But in terms of the frame and the makeup of someone, he’s seen people like me, and I’ve seen people like him many times before. It’s just his mind that I have to conquer in the ring. You have to take someone’s soul, you have to take someone’s spirit, and I’m looking forward to the challenge for sure.”
The reputation that seems to follow Joshua is that he can’t take a punch, “he doesn’t have a chin,” which started after his stunning TKO loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in July 2019. Ngannou said he isn’t sure about all that, but he’s hoping to find out.
“Yes, I heard that he doesn’t have a chin. I don’t know if it’s true or not,” Ngannou said. “We’re going to find out. I hope I have an opportunity to test that out. That’s my wish.”
For more on the fight, check out MMA Junkie’s hub for Joshua vs. Ngannou.