Former two-time unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua is treating his upcoming opponent, MMA veteran Francis Ngannou, with a tremendous amount of respect.
Their crossover boxing match takes place on March 8 in Saudi Arabia.
The winner of that fight will be positioned to challenge the victor of the upcoming undisputed clash between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk - which takes place on February 17.
Joshua is not allowing his focus to get shifted by looking too far ahead.
“Let me say this again, I’m not focusing on [facing the Fury-Usyk winner],” Joshua said to The MMA Hour. “I’m going to take my mind, I have to draw it back that Ngannou is my undisputed title fight. That’s the mentality I have to have.
“Ngannou is my undisputed fight. Because you’re only as good as your last fight, and I respect him a lot. He ain’t easy money. He’s a hard night’s work. And you know what’s crazy? So am I. I’m a hard night’s work for anyone. So let’s go, it’s going to be fireworks.”
Ngannou made his pro debut last October, in a ten round fight against Fury. On paper, many observers had expected a complete mismatch.
However, Ngannou proved himself by dropping Fury in the third round and then being competitive the rest of the way. Fury secured a razor-close split decision victory.
Joshua was initially being positioned to fight longtime division rival Deontay Wilder. That scenario fell apart when Wilder suffered an unexpected decision loss to Joseph Parker in December.
“I thought it might be Wilder still, because the contracts were signed, and it’s still a big fight,” Joshua said. “It’s still an amazing fight, it’s a crossover between U.K. and U.S.A., all that good stuff promotional-wise, it’s still a good fight.
“So no, I kind of let that one slide for, and then it was the [Flip] Hrgovic situation, the [Andy] Ruiz situation, and then they put Francis there, and my team were like, ‘This is a good opportunity on this day in Saudi Arabia against this opponent. What are you saying?’ I said, ‘Let’s roll. Let’s go.’”