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Can Francis Ngannou shock the world against Anthony Joshua?

Can Francis Ngannou shock the world against Anthony Joshua?

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Mixed martial arts star Francis Ngannou was considered a massive underdog when he fought heavyweight champion Tyson Fury five months ago, nearly stunning the combat sports world when he floored Fury in the third round.

Fury escaped with a controversial victory, but Ngannou’s unexpected performance was made all the more exciting by the fact that it was his first professional boxing match.

Ngannou (0-1 in boxing, 17-3 in MMA) hopes to reprise his role as overachieving underdog with more favorable results in his second career bout on Friday, when he returns to the ring to face former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (27-3, 24 knockouts). They will meet in a 10-round main event with potential title belt implications in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“I think I haven’t shocked the world yet,” Ngannou told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m still in the factory; building, training, learning. When I really get it, I think that’s when the world will be shocked.”

Ngannou may be a novice in the professional ring but he’s not new to the sport, which he described as his first love growing up. He said his dreams centered around boxing for more than a decade, and he continued to eye crossover opportunities after his UFC career began in 2015.

The 37-year-old won his first six fights in the promotion by knockout or submission. Following a pair of unanimous decision defeats in 2018, he won his next six bouts, including a 2021 victory over Stipe Miocic to capture the UFC heavyweight title, and a 2022 title defense against Ciryl Gane.

Ngannou was arguably the sport’s most devastating puncher, and fans salivated at the prospect of a blockbuster bout between him and Jon Jones, the decorated former champion who was planning his return to the sport as a heavyweight.

But Ngannou was stripped of the heavyweight crown in January 2023 after he could not agree to a new contract with the UFC. In May of that year, he signed with the rival Professional Fighters League, which enabled him to compete in professional boxing matches while continuing his MMA career with the fledgling promotion.

“The reason why I’m here is because I always believe in myself and it doesn’t matter the circumstances,” Ngannou said of his journey. “It doesn’t matter the obstacle in front of me. I believe in myself. That doesn’t mean that I control the outcome, I believe in the fact that I’m going to go out there and do my best.”

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Ngannou assumed that attitude ahead of his October match against Fury, the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion who entered as a -1400 favorite. He floored Fury with a left hook late in the third round, but only landed six of 38 punches in the final two rounds, to 14 of 37 for Fury, according to CompuBox.

After 10 rounds, Fury was awarded a split decision victory on the scorecards. The WBC ranked Ngannou as its No. 10 heavyweight contender after the fight.

“This is just his second fight in a boxing ring,” promoter Eddie Hearn told reporters of Ngannou ahead of Friday’s fight. “It’s quite remarkable that on his professional debut he could’ve got a decision to become the lineal world heavyweight champion. So this is a real fighter inside and outside of the ring.”

In Joshua, a -400 favorite, Ngannou is facing an opponent who has said he will not underestimate him.

Joshua is climbing back toward title contention after losing his belts in the first of back-to-back defeats to Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 and 2022. The 34-year-old has since won three straight matches, though none of those opponents were considered elite boxers. The most recent victory, which came in December against Otto Wallin via corner retirement after the fifth round, was considered Joshua’s best showing in years.

“I just think there’s probably a false sense of confidence taken from the previous fight that he had,” said Ben Davison, Joshua’s coach, of Ngannou. “I think it’s going to be a completely different situation. … We’re prepared for him to have some new layers to his game and again, we’re going to find out on Friday, but we’re very well prepared.”

Hearn has said the winner of Friday’s match will face the winner of the May 18 clash between Fury and Usyk — a fight that should produce the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000. Fury, in the lead-up to Friday’s event, said he expects to face Usyk twice this year before meeting the Ngannou-Joshua winner, regardless of the May 18 result.

For Ngannou, that could set up a Fury rematch with greater title implications, after he could not challenge for the belt in their first fight because he was unranked by the WBC. Before then, he is scheduled to return to the cage to face Renan Ferreira in what would be his PFL debut and his first MMA bout since the win over Gane in January 2022.

“They’re both big, strong guys. Anyone can win it,” Fury said of Friday’s matchup during a Wednesday live stream on DAZN. “They’re both big punchers, they’re both not very hard to hit, so they both can come out and do damage.”

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