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In to the unknown: Joshua treads Fury’s path against Ngannou

No slip ups for AJ as Zhang and Parker head high-quality support card

This article was originally published in Steve Wellings’ Susbtack

A Friday night blockbuster fight means we’re going a couple of days earlier this week as two heavyweights clash in Riyadh…Anthony Joshua will enter his Friday night with Francis Ngannou knowing everything he needs to know to grab a heavyweight victory. Former UFC star Ngannou may have brought an element of surprise to his October 2023 clash with Tyson Fury, but in an era of videotape, YouTube clips and analytical snippets, AJ’s team will have dissected every last inch of Ngannou’s physical capabilities.Following a fruitful 2023, Joshua’s confidence and energy levels are once again on the up. While beating the likes of Jermaine Franklin Jr, Robert Helenius and Otto Wallin isn’t exactly sweeping up a murderer’s row of killers, AJ’s own killer instinct has returned following previous back-to-back losses that could’ve irreversibly damaged his mental make-up.

Teaming up with Ben Davison and his assembled squad has brought the Watford man back to basics, adding a simplification to his work. You do this, then this and you’re more likely to be successful. Joshua thrives off that kind of coaching strategy rather than intricate, detail-oriented puzzles and trickery.Strong behind the jab, boasting a lethal uppercut, it will be in AJ’s interest to go Andy Ruiz 2 and skirt the ring, boxing behind his left stick, avoiding clinches. That is where Ngannou’s brute strength could come into play. A grossly unfit Fury played into his hands, and Fury’s promoter, Frank Warren, reckons Joshua might suffer the same fate – or worse.Even though Warren’s comments are sneaky, he has a point. We’ve seen that Ngannou is fit, strong and athletically proficient. Joshua has struggled in the past when hit cleanly or outmuscled. His only inside-the-distance defeat came in 2019 when struggling to cope with the hand speed of the aforementioned Ruiz.A distance fight is required for Anthony as he closes in Fury. Once an unknown boxing quantity, there are now 10 rounds available to assess Ngannou’s movement of hand, foot and head.Some have been critical of Joshua-Nagnnou, but if the UK heavyweight fights twice again this year, it isn’t a problem. Promoter Eddie Hearn is undoubtedly eyeing a cash grab opportunity, hoping Joshua does the job Tyson Fury was supposed to do last year. An impressive win sets up the all-UK blockbuster should Fury find a clean route past Oleksandr Usyk in May.“I want to keep on pushing my brain and trying new things. Get quicker, stronger, smarter in the ring. Face challenges, because I learn so much about myself,” stated an increasingly philosophical Joshua.
Tale of the Tape: How Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou size up
Three years older at 37, the slightly shorter Ngannou hasn’t endured the wear and tear of a long boxing career. His sample size is more based on a rogue 10 rounds as opposed to Joshua, who turned pro in 2013, off the back of Olympic gold, and has competed in 160 rounds across 10+ years. AJ’s 89 per cent KO ratio is a telling stat. While he’s not a scorching one-punch finisher, he can undoubtedly bang with accumulative effect.
Who’s showing AJ vs. Ngannou and what time is UK ringwalk?
Sky Sports Box Office will show it on Friday, March 8, for a price of £19.95. TNT Sports also has the rights. Any listeners can tune in to TalkSport and enjoy the musings of the GAD. Worldwide viewers can catch it on DAZN, which will also show it in the UK if you prefer them to Sky.The card is expected to start around 4 pm UK time, with the business end of the undercard beginning at 7 pm. Main event ringwalks are down for 11 pm, although, as we all know, these times are hard to stick. That said, Saudi broadcasters seem good at running on time.
Boxing Round-Up
Zhang and Parker battle for “best of the rest” heavyweight status
An excellent supporting cast sees heavyweight contenders Zhilei Zhang and Joseph Parker thrown down. The winner deserves a shot at the big time, given where both men have come from. It’s the ultimate “eliminator”. Stylistically, Zhang is the heavier hitter with refined technique and surprisingly fast hands for a big southpaw. Parker is also quick off the draw and tends to grow in confidence off the back of in-ring success. His stamina has been hit or miss in the past, depending on the opposition. New trainer Andy Lee seems a good fit.Zhang will likely stifle the New Zealander early on and enjoy the better of the opening rounds, while Parker will look at the second half of the fight as his kind of territory. Comfortable exposing Wilder’s lack of motivation and inability to land the big shots, Parker’s problems in the past have stemmed from a struggle to cut the ring off and take control. If Zhang circles and makes himself a moving target, the onus lies on Parker to close him down and make him pay.Steve’s pick: All about Zhang for me, just undecided between points or KO. Parker’s most likely route is on points unless Zhang implodes. I’ll go Zhang decision.
Rey Vargas returns against buzzsaw Nick Ball
Boxing for the WBC featherweight title, Rey Vargas versus Nick Ball is a real crossroads affair. This has the potential to be a big breakout bout for Ball. Ball is squat and has a head there to be hit. That could be his undoing. Whether Vargas is the man to exploit the openings at this stage of his career is what makes it such a fascinating fight.Steve’s pick: Out with the old and in with the new. It’s all set up for Ball to do the business, but I’m siding with the known quantity at this level. Vargas on points.Madrimov and Kurbanov is OFF (or is it?)
It’s a shame to see a good fight derailed less than a week before the big night. This has been the recent story of Madrimov’s career, which has seriously lost momentum. Fighting away from Russia would’ve been difficult for Kurbanov who may’ve been selling off his 0. It doesn’t matter now anyway, after a medical scan canned Madrimov. The WBA title was all set to be on the line. Edit: Just as I go to finalise this article, apparently, the fight is back on. Great news if true.
AJ undercard best of the rest…
Mark Chamberlain (14-0) goes in against Welshman Gavin Gwynne (17-2-1). Gwynne has significantly improved over the years but got away with one last time against Marsili.  Justis Huni is a sound heavyweight prospect. Fighting experienced southpaw Kevin Lerena will tell us much about his progression at this stage.Jack McGann, Ziyad Almaayouf, Roman Fury and California-based heavyweight Andrey ‘Rampage’ Novytskyi also feature.Media Credits: DAZN, Sports Illustrated.

About Steve: Experienced boxing writer, author of 8 books and podcaster of over 500 eps. 20 years in the sport. Covered hundreds of shows for newspapers and Boxing News magazine. Chief video script writer for Motivedia channel and BN+. For enquiries:


Integral part of the Irish boxing community for over 13 years