Francis Ngannou to face Anthony Joshua in March

Former UFC world champion, Francis Ngannou will face Anthony Joshua in a heavyweight boxing fight. Ngannou said he will look to test Anthony Joshua’s chin, while the British heavyweight vowed to take his opponent’s soul as the pair came face to face in London.

Joshua will fight the former UFC world champion in a 10-round contest in Saudi Arabia on 8 March. Ngannou lost via split decision to world champion Tyson Fury in a non-title bout in October.

“I heard he doesn’t have a chin,” Ngannou said of Joshua. “I don’t know if it’s true or not. I hope I have the opportunity to test it out, that’s my wish.”

In an otherwise cordial and low-key news conference that ended in a handshake on Monday, Joshua kept his words to a minimum.

“His mind I have to conquer. You have to take someone’s soul, you have to take someone’s spirit. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

The 34-year-old was set to face Deontay Wilder in Riyadh in March before those plans were scuppered by the American’s shock loss to Parker in December. But on the back of a sensational boxing debut against Fury, Ngannou stepped in.

Ngannou is ‘chaos’ for heavyweight division – Joshua

Joshua previously described Ngannou as a “gimmick” fight but has since changed his tune after seeing him drop WBC champion Fury, coming agonisingly close to pulling off one of boxing’s greatest upsets.

“He gave Fury an unbelievable fight,” Joshua told BBC Sport. “I thought ‘hang on a minute here’. The fight was not something I was looking at straight away, but that’s someone who is going to cause a bit of chaos in the heavyweight division”.

Joshua took up boxing aged 18 but warned not to read too much into Ngannou’s lack of experience.

“In three years of coming into boxing I became Olympic champion. In three years as a professional I became a world champion. You don’t have to have a whole heap of experience,” he added.

I’m the underground king – Ngannou

Despite his stellar performance against Fury, a fight many observers had him winning, ‘The Predator’ still has his doubters – those who feel an ill-prepared Fury was having an ‘off day’.

Ngannou – who went from working in a sand quarry in Cameroon as a 12-year-old to the very pinnacle of combat sport – insists he is “just a beginner”.

“I’m the underground king,” he told BBC Sport. “I might not be the champion in boxing, but I’m a life champion. I’m pretty good at finding my way to do my thing.”

The new boxing powerbroker in Saudi Arabia, Turki al-Sheikh, began the news conference by sensationally suggesting the winner of Joshua and Ngannou could face the winner of Fury and Oleksandr Usyk who will contest a historic undisputed title fight in Riyadh on 17 February.

Is Ngannou a flash in the pan? Bragging rights at stake for AJ – analysis

The Outernet venue in central London was where the Fury-Ngannou and Usyk-Fury news conferences were held last year. This time, however, the theatrics of the Gypsy King were missing.

Joshua appeared relaxed and at ease. After several years of battling the ‘AJ has lost it’ brigade, his career has reignited with three solid wins in 2023.

He will claim bragging rights by overcoming Ngannou in better fashion than rival Fury did. Ngannou’s foray into boxing is nothing short of remarkable. We will find out whether he is a true heavyweight contender or just a flash in the pan.

We can, however, say with certainty this is the era of Saudi-influenced boxing. The Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn bromance is blossoming and those barriers that have historically prevented big fights from taking place appear to have shattered.

Al-Sheikh outlined his boxing ambitions and even proposed Warren and Hearn pick five fighters from each of their stable for a boxing event in 2024, prompting the rival promoters to shake hands.

Critics, however, will point to his ambitions as the latest attempt to gain legitimacy and deflect attention from controversy over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and its impact on the environment with marquee sporting events.

Source: BBC Sports

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