A chance to outdo Tyson Fury? Anthony Joshua set for Francis Ngannou showdown in Saudi Arabia

5 min read

Are you Team ‘Gypsy King’ or Team ‘AJ’? The question has dominated boxing for the best part of a decade, and British fight fans rarely sit on the fence.

A chance to outdo Tyson Fury? Anthony Joshua set for Francis Ngannou showdown in Saudi Arabia
A chance to outdo Tyson Fury? Anthony Joshua set for Francis Ngannou showdown in Saudi Arabia

In years to come, big hitters Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua will become synonymous with the current era of heavyweight boxing.

But until the much sought-after superfight actually materialises, one which promoter Eddie Hearn predicts could be the biggest in the sport’s history, we can only speculate – using recent form and mutual opponents – on who would win.

In December Joshua dismantled Otto Wallin, the Swede who gave Fury a gruelling night’s work four years prior, inside six rounds.

“I always favoured Fury if they ever fought,” Wallin tells BBC Sport. “I felt Joshua was a really good style for Fury and Fury would pick him apart, but now after I’ve been with Joshua I think it will be a tougher fight than I imagined.”

Joshua returns to Saudi Arabia on Friday, with Fury at ringside, presented with another opportunity to better his rival when he takes on novice Francis Ngannou in Riyadh.

WBC champion Fury’s stock plummeted in October after a tougher-than-expected points win against the former UFC champion making his boxing debut.

As the boxing cliche goes, styles make fights, but can Joshua learn from Fury’s mistakes? After years of battling his own critics, a convincing Joshua knockout may convert more followers into believing he is once again the ‘A’ side of British boxing.

Fury-Joshua talk dominates fight week

Fight week in Riyadh has been strikingly different to the enchantment of a Vegas fight week or the raucousness of a UK stadium showdown.

The blossoming bromance between promoters Frank Warren and Hearn, a feud mended by the super-rich Saudi organisers, has continued to flourish.

Ngannou has been jovial and Joshua, although in the zone and a man of few words, has been fairly relaxed.

With career-high paydays for all if not most boxers, it is no surprise there have been little theatrics and a feel-good spirit.

The friction between Joshua and Fury, however, may be so deep-rooted that perhaps not even the Saudis can resolve it.

Fury – who has his own date with destiny in the undisputed world title fight with Oleksandr Usyk this summer – was pictured with Joshua at the home of influential Saudi organiser Turki Alalshikh on Tuesday but the pair rather awkwardly did not speak.

Having shared a warm embrace with Tyson’s father, John Fury, earlier in the week, Joshua’s demeanour changed at the mere mention of the Gypsy King as he rebuked any suggestion he and Fury could ever bury the hatchet.

“With Tyson it’s a different story,” Joshua said.

‘Any win over Ngannou will be more impressive than Fury’

While Fury can soon re-establish himself as the kingpin of the division by becoming the first four-belt heavyweight world champion, Joshua can – for a couple of months at least – claim bragging rights with another victory.

Morecambe’s Fury edged a split decision against Ngannou after being dropped in the third round.

“Any win over Ngannou for Joshua is going to be more impressive than Tyson Fury’s victory,” Matchroom’s Hearn says.

Only those in and around Fury’s camp will truly know how seriously he trained for Ngannou, but Joshua – who once described Fury-Ngannou as a “gimmick” – is now gravely aware of the consequences of taking ‘The Predator’ lightly.

“I think we can all learn underestimating people can be to your own detriment,” Joshua says.

“The fight will be another tough moment in my career. It’s not going to be easy.”

Critics took ‘toll’ on Joshua – but is he back to his best?

Joshua has faced intense scrutiny since a shock defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019, but the Olympic gold medallist is riding high on a three-fight winning streak.

Although wins against Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius in 2023 were solid if not spectacular, Hearn believes Joshua “found his aggressive streak again” against Wallin.

In the build-up, Wallin boarded the Joshua-bashing train by saying he was mentally weak and past his prime.

“It’s how I felt,” Wallin says of the comments, but he may have stoked a fire in Joshua. After five gruelling rounds, Wallin was pulled out by his corner.

“I felt like he was doubting himself and he wasn’t really that confident or the killer he used to be,” Wallin says.

“He took me by surprise. He came out pretty hard in the fight. He showed all the things I said weren’t right.”

Wallin was the first opponent Joshua stopped in the opening six rounds of a fight since 2016.

With a long-awaited Fury fight still on the agenda, Hearn feels Joshua is also winning back the support he craves.

“He had that for so long but one defeat against Andy Ruiz and people started questioning everything he’d done previously,” Hearn says. “That hurt him. It definitely took its toll on Joshua.

“He looked sensational against Wallin and since then the narrative has changed considerably with people going ‘blimey, I think he can beat Fury’.”

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours