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‘There is no element of surprise’: Joshua confident ahead of Ngannou bout

‘there-is-no-element-of-surprise’:-joshua-confident-ahead-of-ngannou-bout
‘There is no element of surprise’: Joshua confident ahead of Ngannou bout
  • Mike Coppinger, ESPNMar 7, 2024, 07:50 AM ET

Tyson Fury crashed to the mat, dropped by a left hook from Francis Ngannou that produced one of the most shocking moments in recent boxing history.

This wasn’t part of the script. Ngannou, after all, was making his pro boxing debut that night in October, and he was sharing the ring with one of the all-time greats.

Fury didn’t appear to take Ngannou seriously — he entered the ring in noticeably poor shape — and the former UFC heavyweight champion capitalized on the champion’s miscalculation.

Ngannou, 37, knows he won’t be underestimated a second time. Anthony Joshua, the former unified heavyweight champion whom Ngannou meets Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in his second boxing match, was afforded 10 rounds of Ngannou film to study.

And after the way Ngannou boxed Fury, Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs) surely properly prepared with so much on the line.

“Now I know the guy can fight. I know. There is no element of surprise.” Anthony Joshua on Francis Ngannou

“I know that Anthony Joshua might come out even stronger than Tyson Fury because he knows that I can handle it,” Ngannou told ESPN on Sunday. “But still, I have a little bit more confidence than last time even though I know this might potentially be a harder battle because … Anthony Joshua at least knows what to prepare for.”

Ngannou, too, has a better idea of how to prepare for a boxing match following 10 rounds with the best the division has to offer along with two boxing training camps with trainer Dewey Cooper.

Ngannou, of Cameroon, said that in the Fury camp, it took him “two months to maybe spar for like eight rounds.” Of course, Ngannou was used to five-minute-round MMA bouts scheduled for three or five rounds.

“After eight rounds, it was so hard,” said Ngannou, whose last MMA fight was a January 2022 victory over Ciryl Gane to retain his UFC heavyweight championship. “But now starting this camp, the first sparring was eight rounds.

“I’m more composed. I know how to handle 10 rounds and all that stuff. And after 10 rounds, I’m not just falling on the floor [from exhaustion]. And I have even better sparring partners this time. … Even in [this] training camp, my body mechanics were a little better, I understand the sport a little better. I had experience from going 10 rounds, which is something I was questioning myself about it, since I have never done it.”

Ngannou said he’s “still working to have a better jab … working on having that footwork. I love the footwork part even though I’m damn heavy [272 pounds against Fury].” Naturally, the footwork is far different in a boxing ring vs. the Octagon. But it appears that Ngannou is a willing student, and he’ll need to be, considering the contrasting style Joshua figures to employ against him.

Fury elected to box Ngannou off the back foot and eked out a majority-decision victory in October, while Joshua returned to his seek-and-destroy style in December’s win over Otto Wallin. That bout was Joshua’s first with trainer Ben Davison, following a pair of bouts with Derrick James leading his corner.

The result: Joshua looked rejuvenated in a surprisingly one-sided fifth-round TKO victory over Wallin, who gave Fury all he could handle in 2019.

“I went to a stage where I was trying to change my style [with James], be a backfoot-boxer behind the jab, stick and move, not be explosive, kind of control the pace and stuff like that,” Joshua, 34, said in January. “But Ben was like, ‘Look, that’s not your body type, at the end of the day, you’re a f—ing big unit, you’re explosive, knocking f—ing people out.'”

That’s exactly what Joshua did against Wallin. The performance was impressive for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because of how confidently Joshua boxed.

Since being upset by Andy Ruiz Jr. in June 2019 via seventh-round TKO, Joshua has appeared hesitant to unleash his power shots, while his chin has been deemed shaky.

He gained revenge over Ruiz later that year to reclaim his three heavyweight titles. He lost them again when he dropped a pair of bouts to Oleksandr Usyk, who meets Fury for the undisputed championship on May 18 in Riyadh.

“I’m definitely refreshed,” Joshua said. “I think people underestimate me. They think they can just come and put pressure on me and do this and do that. … Ngannou has got to come through me as well. So, he’s looking at someone who knows how to fight.

“I’m a power-puncher myself. I break people’s eye sockets. I broke Wallin’s nose and eye socket; [Robert] Helenius got sparked out. Dillian Whyte, f—ing ruined his career with the uppercut. … I was the first person to drop [Andy] Ruiz in his career. … “[Ngannou] has to deal with me as well. I’m going to be there.”

England’s Joshua was lined up to fight Deontay Wilder on Friday in a long-awaited heavyweight battle, but Wilder was upset by Joseph Parker on the Joshua-Wallin undercard in December. That’s when Ngannou stepped in.

“Even though I have fought Tyson Fury, this is still my second fight in boxing,” Ngannou said. “I’m not an Olympic champ. I have no amateur career, nothing. But yes, I’m going to take on a former [unified] champion, an Olympic [gold medalist]. I’m going after him and really intend to take him out. So, it’s the same thing [as Fury].”

Ngannou is once again the underdog — + 300, per ESPN BET — and really has no business competing with an elite heavyweight like Joshua in just his second boxing match. But Ngannou proved once already that he shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that his devastating power in the Octagon transitioned to the boxing ring.

That highlight of Ngannou flooring Fury in Round 3 won’t soon be forgotten. Sure, Fury rose off the canvas and won the fight, but it proved that Ngannou is a special fighter, even if he never wins a boxing match.

“It wasn’t a clean shot,” Ngannou said. “I was even surprised that Tyson Fury went down from that punch.”

But what happens if Ngannou connects on Joshua with a flush power shot?

“Nobody is taking a big punch,” Ngannou said.

If Ngannou can land a big punch, his performance vs. Fury can never be called a fluke again — not that it’s fair to say now. But if Joshua blasts out Ngannou in a dominant fashion, Ngannou knows what people will say.

And there’s far more at stake for Joshua, who can ill afford a loss to an MMA fighter as he pushes to land the fight with Fury that has long been discussed as the biggest in U.K. history.

“Now I know the guy can fight. I know,” Joshua said. “There is no element of surprise. ‘He’s going to be s—. He’s not going to be able to move. He’s going to have s— footwork. His feet are going to be like they’re stuck in the sand.’ No, he can move; he can come forward.”

“What makes a good fight is a boring fight because a person should be so dominant, the other person can’t do anything. And I want it to be like a slugfest where he’s hitting me, I’m hitting him. … I’ve taken 10 rounds to hit him with a knockout shot. I want to be just surely dominant.”

Ngannou doesn’t know when he’ll return to MMA, where he’s signed with the PFL. He said he could compete in MMA this year, but his priority is a challenge for the undisputed heavyweight championship in a boxing ring against whoever emerges from a pair of bouts between Fury and Usyk.

Joshua and Ngannou are pursuing the same goal, even if they traveled vastly different paths to arrive at this juncture.

“I’m not done yet,” Ngannou said. “I’m intending to do more and more.”

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