Anthony Joshua was finally supposed to fight Deontay Wilder, but the Bronze Bomber busted the big fight and opportunity by losing in the co-main event of the Day of Reckoning card in Saudi Arabia last month to Joseph Parker.
Joshua held his end of the bargain in the main event, dominating Otto Wallin en route to a fifth-round stoppage win.
A reshuffling of the cards in the heavyweight deck has since taken place, and now, the former two-time unified champion Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs) will instead take on former UFC heavyweight champion turned boxing darling Francis Ngannou (0-1).
The fight won’t be staged as the second coming of the “Rumble in the Jungle” as Joshua’s promoter and Matchroom Boxing head Eddie Hearn had originally intended. Instead, the clash will take place where seemingly all of the mega fights are these days – Saudi Arabia. Turki Alalshikh, the chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, is funding the fight, and the planned date is for the fight matchup to take place either March 8 or 9 in Riyadh.
“Francis Ngannou is a very dangerous man, and they’ll be training, absolutely, with every ounce in their soul to be victorious,” Hearn told The MMA Hour.
“I still believe that AJ will show you the levels of boxing in this fight. But listen, I’ve been wrong before. I’m an AJ fanboy. And the reason that people aren’t pooh-poohing this fight is because they realize it’s a dangerous fight now. They realize AJ should win, but [Ngannou] is for real.”
Ngannou has turned into a sensation due to his more than respectable performance during his split decision loss against Tyson Fury in October. Ngannou knocked down Fury in the 10-round fight and landed 59 punches on the WBC titlist. Fury answered back with 71 shots of his own, but he appeared to be a shell of himself.
Following the fight, the WBC gave Ngannou a No. 10 ranking.
Ngannou will be heading into the Joshua fight with a world of confidence. The MMA veteran predicted this week that he’ll most likely knock out Joshua and that the Brit will be easier to drop than Fury.
“I feel like [Ngannou’s] earned that shot – or certainly to continue at that level,” said Hearn. “He’s a dangerous fight. I know that this guy’s a big, big lump that can really punch, and I think he has no fear, which makes him dangerous. But I just feel like AJ’s in a great place, and I expect him to pick him apart and knock him out.
“You can’t really say that he’s not a credible opponent. This is a dangerous fight. Like, AJ actually has a lot to lose here. Coming off the Wallin fight, he’s in a wonderful position to go and fight for the IBF world title, which we hope will happen after the Francis Ngannou fight. But it’s kind of like, there’s a lot of jeopardy in this fight. A lot of jeopardy. If you lose to Francis Ngannou … it’s not a great look … So he’s going to do everything he can to avoid that.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer, and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, through email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com, or via www.ManoukAkopyan.com.