Promoter Frank Warren is intrigued by the new wrinkles Francis Ngannou may or may not show against Anthony Joshua.
The head of Queensberry Promotions is helping promote another crossover boxing event on March 9 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, between former UFC champion Ngannou and former boxing heavyweight champion Joshua. That will mark the fourth major boxing event the oil-producing region has backed in about six months. The country is also hosting the undisputed heavyweight championship between Warren's top client, WBC titlist Tyson Fury, and unified champion Oleksandr Usyk, in February.
Warren presided over Ngannou’s boxing debut last October, when he faced Fury. Ngannou shocked viewers because he made the fight competitive and even dropped Fury in the early rounds. Fury won via razor-thin split decision.
This time Ngannou will not have the benefit of novelty and his opponent may provide even more dangerous elements than Fury: Joshua is known for his punching power and is riding a three-fight win streak ever since he dropped two consecutive fights to Usyk. Joshua is coming off a dominant stoppage of Swedish contender Otto Wallin in December, on a card that also took place in Riyadh.
“For AJ going into the fight, at least he’s seen him (Ngannou) now in the boxing ring, how he performs in a boxing ring against probably the best heavyweight in the world against Tyson,” Warren told SecondsOut. “So he knows what to expect.
“What will be interesting to see is what has Ngannou learned from his first fight he had as a heavyweight. Obviously anyone now fighting him will be looking to see what are the chinks in his armor, what they can exploit, and so forth. Can he get better? It’s going to be very, very interesting, and what tactics AJ uses in the fight. He’s a big puncher himself. Is he just going to try and take him out? I don’t know.”
Warren approached Ngannou’s first boxing fight with Fury from the standpoint of a spectacle, but he was taken aback by how competitive the Cameroonian was in what most observers described as a blatant mismatch. Given Ngannou was able to drop Fury, the veteran promoter feels there is a good chance he can even end up stopping Joshua, who has shown to have a vulnerable chin.
“Ngannou has shown that if he catches you, he can hurt you,” Warren said. “He’s done that as a UFC fighter, tremendous puncher. You don’t want to be fighting him on the inside, because that’s his game, that’s what they do…you’re not going to fiddle with him on the inside. That’s the way they fight. You also see that he’s a big puncher. If he catches AJ I think he can knock him out. But then I think he can knockout out nearly any heavyweight out there if he catches them. He’s that type of fighter. He’s a big puncher and he showed that he can box a bit.”
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.