Francis Ngannou will not be a heavyweight boxing champion.

I guarantee it.

Nevertheless, the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder became the next big thing in the ring – at least for novelty purposes – when his chief MMA nemesis, Dana White, went public with the story that he’d been relieved of his UFC championship and released from any contractual ties to the conglomerate.

Within moments, the suggestions started flying as to what the 36-year-old might do next, whether it be remaining in the MMA world with the Bellator or PFL promotions, investigating the hybrid boxing space with the Bare-Knuckle Fighting Championship or going all-in with a regulation set of 10-ounce gloves.

He’s won 17 of 20 pro MMA fights with 12 KOs and his appearance at Wembley Stadium alongside Tyson Fury last spring – not to mention their occasional back and forth on social media – has created the possibility of a sport vs. sport showdown with boxing’s most recognizable heavyweight king.

But while Fury remains the gold standard of would-be opponents, there are others.

Given Ngannou’s hard-to-dispute standing as the A-side in any matchup he chooses and his status as a cash cow, he’s certainly not going to risk getting embarrassed in a fight against any opponent – no matter how capable and deserving – that nearly no one beyond the hardcore set has heard of.

In other words, for those championing the likes of Otto Wallin, Dillian Whyte, Lucas Browne or Zhelei Zhang for a spotlight turn under the big top, don’t hold your breath. 

Seeing how we’re living in a Jake Paul world these days, why not compromise?

So instead of expecting Ngannou to risk his mojo against an opponent with the ability to actually beat him, or at the very least make him look bad, the initial suggestion here is a little different.

Stealing a page from Paul, how about calling on someone recognizable to the boxing-familiar masses, but perhaps not possessing the ferocity of an able-bodied stand-in in his 20s, 30s… or even 40s.

How about James Toney?

He’s a Hall of Famer these days for good reason following a long career in which he racked up 90 fights, 77 wins, 47 KOs and world titles at three weights – 160, 168 and 190 pounds – not to mention a heavyweight title claim that was snuffed out by a drug test following a 2005 defeat of John Ruiz.

He’s 54 years old these days, last fought in 2017 – KO’ing one Mike Sheppard, then 41, in six rounds – and stepped into the Octagon himself for an ill-fated bout with Randy Couture at UFC 118 in 2010, which went less than a round before Toney tapped out to an arm-triangle choke.  

Is he likely to defeat an active, successful combat sports champion like Ngannou? Not at all.

But he was clever, skilled and had enough pop to repeatedly flummox guys significantly larger than him and he was never lacking for the sort of confidence to believe he could manage a ring novice.

Even a huge one.

“I could see Toney doing it,” Randy Gordon, a SiriusXM radio host who’s also a former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and editor of Ring Magazine, told Boxing Scene.

“Should (Ngannou) start at the top? That’s open to debate.”

One of Toney’s multi-division contemporaries, ex-light heavyweight and cruiserweight title claimant Antonio Tarver – who most recently fought at 217 pounds in 2015 – turned down the proposition in favor of continuing to steer the career of his son, Antonio Jr., who got his pro mark to 11-0 on Saturday.

The younger Tarver, who’s 35, has fought from junior middleweight to super middleweight.

“Let’s get Jr.,” Tarver Sr. told Boxing Scene. “It’s his time now.”

Of course, there’s a strong possibility that Ngannou isn’t in the mood for potential elder abuse.

Which leaves the option of shopping boxing’s dented-can aisle for an ex-heavyweight champ.

Anthony Joshua’s nine title-fight wins across two belted reigns still place him well past the sport’s flotsam and jetsam, but it’s no less true that consecutive losses to Oleksandr Usyk indicate he’s something less than the supernova some hype men claimed as the wave crested in 2017.

“This is the genuine article, a credible world heavyweight boxing champion who can charm a mainstream audience in a way not seen for a generation,” said editor Eoin Connolly, whose SportsPro magazine labeled a then-unbeaten 27-year-old the world’s most marketable athlete. “He’s proved this in the UK and now has a chance to do it around the world in the years ahead. Fans are flocking to him, brands are flocking to him, and that only looks set to continue.”

He carried that label for three fights before getting flattened by Andy Ruiz in his U.S. debut in June 2019, defeated Ruiz in a return bout six months later and defended once more versus Kubrat Pulev before Usyk upended plans for Joshua’s Tyson Fury bout with two straight clinical wins.

He's recalibrating his place in the ring spectrum, these days. And, according to chief hype man Eddie Hearn, a bout with Ngannou could soothe the hurt of a dinged-up spirit.

“I think AJ is all about the biggest fights and the biggest challenges,” Hearn told DAZN. 

“I think AJ has got his mind on becoming a three-time world champion, but a fight against Francis Ngannou is fascinating.”

Ngannou apparently agrees.

He mentioned Joshua by name when discussing his would-be boxing options and there's no doubt it'd be compelling to see Joshua, who’s a sculpted 6-foot-6 and typically weighs around 240, across a ring from a fearsome predator.

The Englishman was dropped four times by Ruiz in their first matchup and repeatedly rattled by Usyk –

neither a KO artist – but may want to prove he’s got the mettle to stand and trade with a less experienced but certifiably dangerous foe. 

Or would he play the matador to Ngannou's bull and lean on an 82-inch reach as the decisive factor, as he did in the Ruiz rematch?

Sign us up to be first in line to watch.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title-fight schedule:  

SATURDAY

IBF/WBC/WBO light heavyweight titles – London, United Kingdom

Artur Beterbiev (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Anthony Yarde (No. 1 WBO/No. 15 IWBR)

Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KO): Seventh IBF title defense; Seven KOs in seven title fights (52 total rounds)

Yarde (23-2, 22 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost WBO title shot (TKO 11) in 2019

Fitzbitz says: Yarde is a big, strong contender who’s deserving of a spot on the world stage but he’s way over his head when it comes to Beterbiev, who has big fights on his agenda. Beterbiev in 8 (95/5)

WBA flyweight title – London, United Kingdom

Artem Dalakian (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. David Jimenez (No. 1 WBA/No. 35 IWBR)

Dalakian (21-0, 15 KO): Sixth title defense; Four KOs in six title fights

Jimenez (12-0, 9 KO): First title fight; Fighting in fourth country (Costa Rica, Panama, United States)

Fitzbitz says: You needn’t believe Dalakian is a world-beater if you don’t want to, but he ought to have enough in a rugged toolbox to handle a comparably untested challenger. Dalakian in 10 (95/5)

Last week's picks: None

2023 picks record: 0-1 (0.0 percent)

2022 picks record: 41-16 (71.9 percent)  

Overall picks record: 1,250-409 (75.3 percent)  

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.  

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.